Hooray! Overpriced DLC goes on sale…

Need for Speed World is part of EA’s mission to try and conquer Free-to-Play gaming. It’s a part of the video game market which can be very profitable for a publisher even though a good chunk of it is, as its title suggests, free to play. The best way of clawing back development and maintenance costs; vanity items. Like pieces of armor, weaponry or in Need for Speed World‘s case, a ridiculously expensive virtual car. Released last Wednesday for the year plus PC racer, the Koenigsegg CCX Elite Edition will set you back $100 unless of course you grab it now because the kind old folks at EA are selling it for just $75 (via Gamespot). Baffling when you think Free-to-Play items are also know as micro-transactions. There’s nothing micro about that price.

The Koenigsegg CCX Elite Edition is said to be the first premium elite car which would mean that more offensively priced DLC will be coming to the 5 million users of NfSW. Of course no one is forcing players to buy the cars but it certainly adds to EA’s reputation of being rapacious.  Just the other week they announced a subscription-based version of Tetris. Never mind that Tetris can be found on every platform known to man, in the iOS version you can now sign up to paying $3 a month or $30 a year for exclusive discounts, challenges and a booster to speed up level progression. Because levelling up is what Tetris is all about…

Stories like these are the kind of thing usually saved for April Fool’s day when companies can announced insane ideas and promotions with consumers chuckling at the stupidity and forgetting it the very next day. But this time the stories are true and it’s EA who look like the fools to me.

How long is too long for a demo?

How long would you like your demos to last? Enough to get a good sense of the game? Enough to leave you wanting more? How about long enough to actually complete it? That’s what one PSP game is offering. According to Famitsu (via Kotaku), the PSP’s version of Ragnarok, an online strategy RPG, the demo released by GungHo Online Entertainment lasted around 16 hours allowing the publication to see on of the many endings. And that’s why this model works for Ragnarok, because if people want to see the other ones they’d have to purchase the full game. If you fancy giving it a go, the demo can be downloaded here.

Technically, this can be considered a freemium model which may not be big on consoles, but is something that’ll have to be considered in the long run. The PSP has already had a freemium game and again it’s an RPG. Bakumatsu Revolution could be downloaded from PSN and then distributed among PSPs via wireless connectivity. A genius way of virally spreading your game inside a tight community and then charging for additional quests and loot thereafter. Sony seem more keen to adopt the freemium model than other platform holders and are even changing PlayStation Home to incorporate free-to-play games.

Microsoft initially appear less than on board with the freemium model. When Dungeon Fighter Online comes to XBLA, the current plan is that it won’t be the free-to-play version seen on PCs but a fully paid-for game. However, in June, several sources claimed Microsoft was collecting data and discussing the possibility to bring free-to-play games to the 360 where gamers exchanged MS Points for in-game items. Maybe Dungeon Fighter Online will stay a freemium game after all.

Nintendo is adamant that free-to-play games will not be a feature of their consoles. Time and time again Satoru Iwata has scoffed at the idea of this model so don’t expect to see any on the 3DS or Wii U which could make them less relevant to gamers in the near future. On the nearest supposed contender to Nintendo, the App Store, in-app purchases and free-to-play games account for 72 per cent of its revenue. Like it or not (and I don’t), the freemium model is very big business and a better way for console publishers to combat piracy and pre-owned sales than DRM or pre-order bonuses. It wouldn’t surprise me if the next generation of consoles focused on this type of gaming pushing us almost entirely into a digital distribution. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not

Nothing is free, not unless you’re Nintendo

One thing Nintendo needs to focus on the most for this generation and beyond is rallying support from third party developers. They tried and arguably failed to do this right off the bat with the 3DS by withholding the best first party software to allow third party titles a bit of breathing space. A kind and possibly dangerous gesture that makes the recent news all the more odd. According to Nintendo World Report (via My Nintendo News) third party devs aren’t currently able to release free software through the 3DS’s eShop. And no freebies means no demo either or at least not unless you want to pay for them.

At this point in time, anything that appears on the eShop that isn’t by Nintendo must be at least 200 yen which is why Capcom’s demo for Nazo Waku Yakata recently went live on the Japanese store for said price. It was thought that Capcom were just trying to make a quick buck out of the consumer but evidently not.

It’s perplexing why Nintendo aren’t easily allowing demos on the store when they’ve become integral to a lot of smaller games’ success. What better exposure is there than the chance to play a small part of a game for free? It works well for most (i.e good) XBLA titles that must have a demo version and is a method that Nintendo really must accept instead of fighting against on their platforms. Restricting third party content isn’t going to win developers over especially on the 3DS.

The reason again most likely stems from Nintendo president Satoru Iwata’s fear of low budget and free-to-play games devaluing the software and even developers themselves which I tend to agree with. But demos don’t fit into either of these categories and should be viewed differently. Hopefully they will be too what with the eShop being so young and Nintendo showing they are willing to conform, albeit slowly, to current online video game practices.

Battlefield Play4Free first details and teaser

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Following on from the popularity of Battlefield Heroes, EA have announced Battlefield Play4Free, combining some of the most popular maps and features of the franchise’s console and PC games. Up to 32 players can join the online skirmishes that will allegedly have photo-realistic graphics and be a serious competitor for console shooters. Senior producer James Salt explains more: “We broke new ground in 2009 with the launch of Battlefield Heroes; a game that has 6 million registered players worldwide. Now we are complementing that arcade shooter with a core, realistic Battlefield shooter experience that fans have been clamouring for. Battlefield Play4Free is for serious shooter fans who are looking for a premium – but free – experience that rivals top console titles.”

Odd that he’d put a PC only game up against those on a console. I would imagine that the number of other free-to-play PC shooters will in reality be their biggest competitors. Nevertheless, Battlefield Play4Free sounds like a promising game using maps from Battlefield 2 and the classes of Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

A closed beta begins November 30th and budding players can register today at the official site. The full game is said to go live in Spring 2011.

Everyone loves a cat fight

I was sceptical when clicking a link in an email I received this morning after reading it was for a game called Cat Fight. All manner of thoughts ran through my head so arriving on a page with a retro-isnpired and comical battle between to felines was quite pleasant. Cat Fight is a free-to-play online game by seasoned developers Arkadium and puts players in the role of a King to a race of moggies who had his sandcastle trampled by an opposing cat-nation’s leader. The only way to retaliate is all out war with water pistols and buckets, soaking your way to victory and protecting your fort. Instead of another tired Tower Defense clone, Cat Fight mixes that genre with Puzzle Quest mechanic, having you match coloured squares to build up stockpiles for the making of troops for your cause. It’s actually quite a lot of fun and since its free, the only barrier for entry is the twenty second countdown timer before the game starts.

Cat Fight can be found at www.greatdaygames.com, it’s worth a chuckle.

Rolando 3 gets canned

Fans of tumbling platformer Rolando may have noticed the absence of its third installment from the App Store. Due November last year, Neil Young of ngmoco told IGN the reason for its non-existance is because Rolando 3 has been canceled – for the time being at least. Adopting a popular MMO pricing strategy, ngmoco have decided to develop games for a free-to-play model. This means that some of the game is offered for free but add-ons like levels, in-game items and characters will be charged for. Rolando 3 was being developed before such a dramatic shift in company ethics took place and now doesn’t fit within this structure:

“When we made the decision to go free-to-play, we said to ourselves, ‘Look. If we can’t make the game free-to-play, we’re not going to release it.’ And Rolando 3 as it was envisioned at that time was not a free-to-play product. So we’ve just taken the time to try to figure out how to do that franchise really effectively in free-to-play space. We’re thinking about it and at the appropriate moment we’ll deliver a new Rolando experience that takes full advantage of everything we’ve learned from the free-to-play world.”

Rolando 3 may be out of the question but it looks like the jolly Loco Roco inspired series will take on a new form at some point in the future. Personally I prefer a solid demo or lite version of a game leading into a complete package over free-to-play but it clearly works for some companies and ngmoco seems determined to make it work for them too.