Monday, January 21, 2008

"Free" Online Gaming embraced by Electronic Arts

This article about Electronic Arts introducing "free" online gaming caught my attention. Apparently, they will offer free games with the ability for online players to buy "extras" to customize their game experience.

When Slitherine Software's producer emailed me (see next post) he asked me for suggestions to enhance the gaming experience. I told him that several years ago I wrote to Sierra, makers of one of my favorite games Caesar III, and asked them if they ever considered selling modules that would let a player view classical plays or a senate debate if they built a theater or senate house or bet on chariot races or gladiator combats if they built a hippodrome or amphitheater. Maybe now, somebody will!

"In a major departure from its traditional business model, E.A. plans to announce Monday that it is developing a new installment in its hit Battlefield series that will be distributed on the Internet as a free download. Rather than being sold at retail, the game is meant to generate revenue through advertising and small in-game transactions that allow players to spend a few dollars on new outfits, weapons and other virtual gear.

At a conference in Munich, the company intends to announce that the new game, Battlefield Heroes, will be released for PC this summer. More broadly, E.A. hopes the game can help point the way for Western game publishers looking to diversify beyond appealing to hard-core players with games that can cost $60 or more.

E.A.’s most recent experiment with free online games began two years ago in South Korea, the world’s most fervent gaming culture. In 2006, the company introduced a free version of its FIFA soccer game there, and Gerhard Florin, E.A.’s executive vice president for publishing in the Americas and Europe, said it has signed up more than five million Korean users and generates more than $1 million in monthly in-game sales.

Players can pay not only for decorative items like shoes and jerseys but also for boosts in their players’ speed, agility and accuracy. Mr. Florin said that while most users do not buy anything, a sizable minority ends up spending $15 to $20 a month."

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