A few months ago, yet another entrant into the Free-to-Play (F2P) arena was announced: Crytek’s Warface. Crytek joins a very impressive list of gaming companies bringing their franchises into the F2P world. Today, we look at the swing towards the free-model and especially, we take a belated peek at Warface, a game that may indeed change the face of war for F2P-gamers.
Fad or Rad?
The gaming industry seems to go through periodic phases and fads. Up until recently, the hot word being bandied about was “subscription”. For the shooter genre, the “sub” model seemed to hit a crescendo back in mid-2010 when Activision-Blizzard head-honcho and High King Modimus stunt-double, Bobby Kotick, told the world he would love to see the CoD franchise go the way of subscription. King Kotick’s utterance instantly generated the perfect poop-storm amongst CoD faithful, who rebelled against the idea of giving up more of their gold for the privilege of playing a console-ready game. One could argue that the strong brush back of CoD’s subscription model was a win for FPS gamers who apparently kept CoD’s status-quo. However, others will argue that full subscription has only been delayed and as proof, they point to the CoDElite service, which will be offered with all future CoDs. Cynics will say that CoDElite might simply be a way to train CoD-heads into accepting the inevitable across the whole franchise. Whether the fight against subscription was a win, or a loss for gamers, 2010 did seem to usher in a new direction. In an attempt to curry the favor of disgruntled FPS’ers, many gaming companies chose to go anywhere but subscription. One of those new directions was the free-to-play model. Obviously, while F2P did not start in 2010, the result of the pushback against subscription, gave it much more momentum.
Time to shine
Regardless of the push it got from the anti-sub movement, F2P’s time to shine may just have been as a result of the confluence of multiple forces.
- With the economic success of Asia and South America, there has been a huge increase in the number of world-wide gamers. Unfortunately, many developing-world gamers still can’t pay AAA prices for AAA games. By going the F2P route, big publishers can at the very least, develop brand recognition and loyalty in gamer-rich, economic hot-spots like Asia and South America. Small publishers and indie-devs look at F2P as a growing market that sports few quality competitors. To everyone’s benefit, F2P also helps stems piracy as it provides a legal, morally-legitimate way to play for world gamers who cannot yet afford to pay full price for games. From a business point of view, F2P is a good ol’, Charlie Sheen-like win-win.
- Gaming engines are become very affordable and this gives even small coding outfits a chance to compete with the big-boys. All in all, we are seeing the quality of F2P rise due to the availability of products like UT3.
- Many B+ games out there are realizing that F2P is a great way to introduce the world to their IP. Developers are converting a failed, or moderately successful, for pay game into an F2P as a way to build brand recognition. By doing so, they may even be fashioning a game that acts as a loss-leader into their portfolio of games.
- Digital distribution, for example a service like Steam, levels the playing field and provides developers the capability to get their game to players in a way that once, could only be done by major publishers.
F2P gaming is now in the right place at the right time to make a big difference to the way we game. The only thing missing is a quality game that will capture the imagination of the millions of gamers worldwide that are ready to embrace the concept. What we need is a great looking, near-AAA game to come by. Enter Crytek.
Get your Warface on
Crytek, the folks that brought your PC to its knees back in Crysis, are developing a new shooter called Warface and not since Valve announced that TF2 was going F2P has the free-shooter world been as excited about a game.
Warface will employ Crytek’s CryENGINE®3 which is sure to set the tech bar as high as it has ever gotten in the F2P shooter world. The game was initially intended to be marketed towards Chinese gamers, but Crytek recently announced that it will be making Warface available to North American gamers by 2012. The game’s reach is global and unsurprisingly, Crytek is using global resources to make it. It’s being currently developed by Crytek Kiev and co-produced by Crytek Seoul, with overwatch by Crytek Frankfurt.
This was the original press release from Crytek back in August:
Crytek GmbH (Crytek) announced today that its free-to-play online FPS Warface – that was previously announced for a release in mainland China – will hit the Western markets in 2012. The CryENGINE®3 powered military shooter with its near future setting marks a major milestone in the studio’s history and provides gamers with a constantly updated extensive PVE universe full of dramatic multiplayer co-op missions, a full set of class based PVP. Warface is designed completely from scratch to support a free-to-play business model and will be available for PC.
“With Warface we aim to become the next-gen of free to play shooters that are en par with traditional AAA games in terms of quality. We have the team and technology to make it happen and are starting with a strong partner in Asia to ensure we gain experience with the free to play business model. ”, said Cevat Yerli, CEO & President of Crytek. “It’s the next logical step for us to bring this new IP to a global audience and thus to our worldwide community.”
Putting Massive into MMO
In order for F2P and its micro-transaction economic model to make sense, you need to gather together a massive player base, given that only a small percentage of gamers will actually do any of that micro-transacting. What this could mean is that CryENGINE®3 might have to be extremely adaptable. After all, it will need to allow even the lowliest PC to run the game and yet it will still need to provide the jaw-dropping eye-candy that we all expect from any game with the word “Cry” in the title.
The low end is key to F2P. As I have said in previous articles, I for one would like to see developers continue to cater to the bottom feeders in the PC market because that’s where the growth will be in the next few years and PC gaming badly needs those potential players. Cross platform AAA games usually only see 7-10% of their sales going to PC consumers. This low number is why the big publishers are leaving us for the big demographics over on the console side. Resisting this industry trend, F2P has a chance of actually reversing the flow of players back to our favorite platform. Warface is a PC exclusive title, hopefully it will allow even the crappiest laptop to run it with reasonable frame rate. Add the Crytek name on the game and that might be all you need to bring players flocking back to PC.
You might have noticed the “Tencent” logo on that YouTube vid above. No, Tencent is not a devalued rap singer, Tencent is a Chinese tech company that has grown beyond just being one of China’s largest ISP’s and has gone into gaming in a big way. Tencent Games is now an online game developer and operator and has recently been licensed to offer Warface exclusively in China. Tencent already offers free FPS MMO’s like A.V.A. and Crossfire, a game it developed. Crossfire is hugely popular, with sometimes nearly 700K players gaming online concurrently. Even if Warface simply meets Crossfire’s success, imagine the momentum of a game with that many online PC players — in China alone. This is the potential of F2P and the potential of PC gaming.
As I have said, the word “Crytek” alone in the name will elevate the hype around the game. What might settle that hype down is good ol’fashion Beta footage. So here’s some, right here:
Player vs. Environment (Co-Op)
Player on Player (Multiplayer)
As you can see, F2P is still far from competing with AAA. But remember, baby-steps people. Baby-steps. When the game is released here in NA, Warface will probably be one of the best looking FPS in the F2P arena. Looks are one thing, will it be one of the best playing? Tough to tell. We’ll need to wait until 2012.