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BashersBashers is a Dutch gaming website, but with a more critical attitude and more background articles than most mainstream gaming websites. Posts you find here are direct translations of my Dutch articles written for Bashers.

Developer: Freemium, a new generation of console games

April 19, 2011 | Bashers

In this article series, on Tuesdays developers write about their line of work. Nikki Kuppens is game designer at Vanguard Games, which is currently wrapping up Gatling Gears.

Although no official release date has been announced, it won’t be long before the first ‘freemium’ game will reach the Xbox 360. The title in question is Dungeon Fighter Online, made by Nexon. They are also responsible for the possibly better known Maple Story.

Cripple

Freemium games have been thriving in your browser, among other places, for a couple of years now. In short, it means offering the game for free or a very low price, while the developer earns money by selling additional in-game content. Only a small percentage of a whole lot of players needs to by something frequently, to generate income capable of sustaining the game while hopefully also creating some profit for the developer.

The term freemium has gotten a negative reputation, because the quality of the actual products is often not very high. Also, sometimes the gameplay is ‘cripple’, like Minecraft’s Markus Persson describes it. You are almost forced to buy the additional content, in order to be able to still get something out of the game.

So the arrival of freemium on a platform like Xbox LIVE Arcade doesn’t seem like something to look forward to. But there are two reasons to be enthusiastic about this news. First of all, these titles will also have to pass Microsoft’s quality control. If your game is not good enough, you will not release on Xbox 360. So some quality is guaranteed and the problems described above will be less apparent. In other words, free games that can be expanded the way you want! The second reason is that this is the start of something much bigger.

Potential

This is the first sign that the platform is opening up, to go along with a changing market and to concede to the wishes of developers. Because they want to use new and alternative business models, which have proven themselves elsewhere. Freemium, micro transactions, social features, persistence, metrics and ‘connected gaming’ are all properties of a new generation of games.

A few tools are already available in a basic form on the current consoles, they’re just not very ‘connected’ yet. Sending messages to friends is possible, but they can’t be sent from within the game with relevant information. Your list of friends and what they’re doing can be useful, but you rarely see something more than a friend filter on a leaderboard. There is an elaborate online shopping system, but offering a game for free and buying content from within the application hasn’t been possible until now.

If you are familiar with FarmVille, or played recent iOS or Android games, all this doesn’t sound very new. Hopefully you will also have experienced what the potential of these types of features is, if they are added to fun games in a supporting manner. More openness of the platform, more control over content and more information on players will give developers a better grip on their revenue, but will certainly also provide opportunities for game design. That’s the side that interests me most and where a huge challenge lies ahead for designers of traditional console games.

Nikki KuppensApril 21, 2011 - 10:18

After I wrote this article, Gamasutra posted a feature that touches upon the same topics. It quotes some big names in the industry and provides meaningful examples of what I’m talking about.

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