CCP announced that their online first-person shooter DUST 514 will be free-to-play. It means that we expect any owner of the supported gaming platform (PlayStation3) to be able to experience the game, at release, in a reasonably enjoyable fashion without having to pay an entry fee. Some players will provide revenue to the publisher by acquiring virtual goods to enhance their gaming experience.
Besides the fact that free-to-play is such an established business model nowadays, with huge hits such as League of Legends and World of Tanks, there are specific reasons why this announcement makes sense. The Eve brand is not known in console gaming circles, despite the buzz that has been growing around the development of DUST 514. CCP needs to diversify its income and there is no easier way to capture the attention outside of its traditional sphere of influence than by giving away the game.
Sony has a disproportionately high stake in this game, since it is both exclusive to their platform and allows them to reach to other gaming communities. If we do not pay the product, I guess we are the product. The competition from Facebook and Apple and who knows what must have Sony desperate to grow their flock and provide a credible alternative. In this world of abundant content, trading the entry fee for future microtransaction revenue makes sense if you are confident in the quality of your game.
Anyway, I am curious to see how the advertised connection between Eve Online and DUST 514 performs and what effect it will have on both gaming communities. Designing it seems like a recipe for headaches.
For Eve, we have one and soon two online games, a few books (my review of The Burning Life), a boardgame (my review), plenty of user generated content... I still think a small game for smartphones would make a nice addition to that.
I hope we can see more meaningful connections like that in the future, within the contexts of the Eve universe and of games in general. I dislike transmedia when its purpose is only to cover all bases.
There are many other games where I would enjoy this kind of cross-games interaction. For example, month-long play-by-email turn-based strategy games could connect with real time strategy games (for battles) or infiltration games (for espionage), etc. It would make some kind of long gaming continuum. This possible trend might mean some feature-rich games could drop features and those features would become complete games on the most relevant platform. Games might focus on what they do best and connect with complementary games based on previous features. MMOs are very feature-rich so I would not be surprised to see other announcements about games connected to MMOs. Wargaming.net (World of Tanks) might provide the combat game for Bioware's Star Wars MMO, for example!
Games might be created from the ground up with this connection in mind, like DUST 514, or they could reach to other games later in their career. The "connection feature" could redefine online games and the market of games.
Or DUST 514 could tank. We'll see!