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Could Call Of Duty go free-to-play?

Could Call Of Duty go free-to-play?

With Call Of Duty: Black Ops multiplayer currently being so popular, speculation has once again arisen surrounding that long-running question – will Activision ever charge for Call Of Duty online play?

Activision has recently gone on record saying that it won’t monetise the game, at least not at any point in the near future. Speaking to IndustryGamers Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg said, “Are we going to be charging for multiplayer? The answer is no. The experience you have out of the box, connecting with the online community to play Call Of Duty is absolutely integral to the experience and we’ll never charge for that. It’s not going to be something we’ll attempt to monetise; it’s part of the package.”

Fair enough. What isn’t mentioned, however, is another payment model that very few people have discussed regarding Call Of Duty – free-to-play. It’s an approach to business that appears to be paying dividends for DICE, who first experimented with the model in the PC exclusive Battlefield Heroes. From that game has risen another PC exclusive, Battlefield Play4Free, another free-to-play title this time aimed at the hardcore crowd, with more traditional Battlefield graphics and gameplay.

Prominent PC developer Crytek has also announced that it intends to reach out to a similar audience with its free-to-lay shooter Warface, although Crytek is tailoring its game to the Korean and Asian markets.

It’s interesting to see two huge FPS developers exploring a new, emerging trend in digital entertainment, and we can only assume that Activision has discussed the concept too. Following the massive success of Black Ops Activision’s intention to diversify the series and generate new revenue streams will only be stronger, and titles like the upcoming third-person take on the series by Sledgehammer are indicative of this move into new markets. Somewhere, at some point, there must have at least been a discussion at Activision regarding the free-to-play business model, and what it could mean for the Call Of Duty brand.

Would Activision go for such a business model? It’s easy to imagine such a game – a stripped down version of the full game a la Battlefield 1943, with the deeper parts of the game and new weapons, items, perks and killstreaks unlocked via microtransactions.

The reason why Activision probably wouldn’t go for such a model are numerous, though. Firstly, the model is largely unexplored on consoles, with free-to-play currently the domain of the PC market. Neither Xbox Live nor PSN is properly equipped to handle such a model in a comfortable fashion, and as such very few game companies are willing to test console gamers’ interest in such a venture.With Call Of Duty more popular on consoles than on PC, we can’t see Activision attempting a brand new business model on a relatively untested market until someone else has proven that it can work.

Secondly, the free-to-play model is the kind of structure that appeals most to casual gamers, who don’t want to invest £30-£40 in a game they might not play through to the end. Saying Call Of Duty isn’t for casual gamers is something of an understatement, so until the hardcore have shown more of an interest in microtransactions we’re unlikely to see Activision go down that route. Hardcore gamers are happy to pay for their content outright –they don’t want a basic version that’s only expanded upon spending money on micrsotransactions – so there’s little reason for Activision to deviate from that path any time soon.

So will Activision go the same route as DICE and Crytek and release a free-to-play version of the game? It’s very unlikely, at least not until someone else has proven that the concept can work on consoles. Perhaps a test run in Korea and Asia would be a good idea, as in those territories free-to-play is very popular indeed. But with regards to Western markets we can’t see Activision releasing such a title any time soon. At least not any time in the coming years, that is. Who knows what the next generation of consoles and online services will mean for free-to-play content?

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  • Riprie

    Michael Pachter wouldn’t like that though. He has been pushing the idea that Call of Duty’s MP should be subscription based game. I personally do not like that idea. But Play4free CoD sounds nice to me.