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Is The Free-to-Play Model the Future of Gaming?

People love free games on pretty much every platform imaginable. No matter if it’s online blackjack or a multiplayer shooter with a massive world to explore, if it’s free, people will try it. Of course, casual games like blackjack attract casual players who are looking for a quick fix, perhaps a big win. As their name suggests, they are playing casually – only a few hands of blackjack at a time, perhaps multiple times a day.

Things are different with free-to-play titles that are… big.

Destiny 2 went from paid to free-to-play almost two years ago. Since then, the player community has kept growing fast. At one point, in October 2019, there were more than 260,000 concurrent Destiny 2 players on Steam. This number keeps the game in the top 20 when it comes to concurrent players, just below CS and slightly above Skyrim. And the top list contains several other titles that are also free-to-play, showing that the system actually works.

From AAA to free-to-play

Over the years, several major franchises switched from a paid-for model to free-to-play. Among them, we find Counter-Strike, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Team Fortress. Plus, developers have switched part of their efforts toward F2P franchises in their own right – think Fortnite, Apex Legends, Call of Duty: Warzone, and others.

The free-to-play model has several major advantages when compared to the traditional “buy to play” model.

First and foremost, the game has the potential to reach a much wider audience. When they don’t have to pay for a game, players are much more likely to try it – and to fall in love with it, becoming loyal players.

Next, there’s the question of revenue. Once they become hooked on a game, players are more likely to pay for in-game content. Even if the amounts spent are small, the sheer number of potential customers makes it worth it for the developer.

F2P games have massive revenues

Speaking of revenues: F2P games are often the biggest moneymakers for game developers. Last year, three of the top-grossing dozen games on Steam were free-to-play: Destiny 2, DotA 2, and CS: GO. And on other platforms, F2P games routinely make huge piles of money. Last year, Tencent’s “Honour of Kings” MOBA made over $2.7 billion, seriously outgrossing the top paid game of the year, CoD: Modern Warfare ($1.9 billion).

The future

The free-to-play system (a high-end base game with premium expansions and items) seems to be one of the more interesting directions the gaming industry will explore in the future. One major AAA game developer has recently announced that it’s shifting part of its development capacity toward releasing high-end free-to-play titles “to be trending toward AAA ambitions” in the long run. This seems to be a trend increasingly embraced by many developers – a steady, long-term revenue stream as opposed to spikes of revenue with subsequent game releases. This may be the new direction for the near future of high-profile game developers. Let’s hope it will be for the better.

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