A few days ago I read that Killzone 3 would be offering up it’s multiplayer component free of charge with progress limitations and a $15 price tag to acquire the full experience. Are we looking at the future of game purchases? Perhaps. For better or worse? That I’m not so sure of yet.
There are two things that this news causes me to think about. The division of the single player and multiplayer components of a game currently offered up as a single product. And the entrance of the free-to-play (or pay as it were) gaming model into the top tier of video games.
Fun fact #1: The last three games I purchased were: Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3 and Skyrim (all for the Xbox 360 but that’s immaterial in this case). I even picked up the Hardened Edition of MW3, for a crisp benjamin, so that I could have access to the first year worth of multiplayer downloadable content and Call of Duty Elite for what I decided was a pretty good price.
Now Skyrim, being a single player only game, really doesn’t factor into this discussion much though it is tangentially relevant (3 prissy points for tangentially) as I’ll point out later.
Fun fact #2: Of the roughly way-too-much-damned-time I’ve played of these three games I’ve dedicated exactly diddly-squat to the single player campaigns of MW3 and BF3, perhaps 2 hours combined. But I paid full price for the pleasure of basically playing half of what’s on offer. Hell in the case of MW3 I paid 1.5 times full price (sadly the game is absolute garbage and I regret every last cent, but that’s for another day). I would have been completely happy with only buying the multiplayer components of both of those games. I have no intention of every completing the campaigns. In fact the only reason I’ve bothered starting them at all is because I feel some sort of obligation to because I paid for the whole game. It feels a lot like paying for two coach seats on the plane and using the second seat as a place to put my free peanuts, which I didn’t even want in the first place but I said sure because, you know, free.
With Skyrim I paid for a full single player game and that’s what I got. Simple.
In recent review of a game that I care nothing about Michael Barnes over at nohighscores.com talked briefly about the bifurcated design mentality that is bleeding into what seems like every recent high profile release. People like me who play only multiplayer and others who are really only interested in the single player are all being sold the same $60 game. Does this make any sense any more?
There seems to be a few ways that development companies could address the issue. One way is what Barnes implies when he talks about incredible single player experiences like Bioshock or Dead Space. Just cut the multiplayer out. It was an afterthought to begin with; something tacked on to fill out the market pitch bullet list. Even if the effort to create the multiplayer portion of the game was relatively small, it would have been better directed at making the finished single player game that much better.
On the other hand you have the direction Killzone is going with their next installment. Separate the products. Give people who just want the multiplayer a different product all together. We pay for what we want and leave the rest. Oh wouldn’t it be great to live in that wonderful fantasy land.
Which brings us to the second aspect of this discussion, the free-to-play model. You see because as nice as it might sound it most certainly is a fantasy land if we think that this will all stop with a entry level multiplayer product and relatively low cost upgrade to the full experience. Publishers may start out with a model like Killzone is using and offer up the multiplayer as stand-alone product for less, and still including it in the full game purchase. But what we’ll end up with is likely the complete separation of the multiplayer component; consumers paying their $60 for the single player and then shelling out another $60 for the multiplayer. Or perhaps it’s $30 for the multiplayer and we’ll get micro-transactioned into oblivion for additional content. So instead of feeling like we’re finally only having to pay for what we actually want to play we’ll be feeling like we’re getting nickel and dimed into the poor house. The Zynga-fication of the video game ecosystem is almost an inevitability at this point (Zynga is creator of the soul sucking Farmville and all of its children).
Even this initial foray by Killzone smacks of this. You get hooked for free but to be competitive at all you’ll have to shell out a little extra cash. Now, whether micro-payments will factor into the equation for that particular title has yet to be seen, but I can certainly foresee a time when we need to provide a credit card just to boot up the game and each reload of your Taco Bell branded M4 will cost you 99 cents.