The Very Slow, Not So Fast, F2P Revolution

The free-to-play (F2P) revolution will not be televised, but it will be downloaded. Naraka: Bladepoint, a consistent top-10 Steam performer, transitions free-to-play this week. The new tally counts seven of the top ten Steam games as F2P, with four starting life as a premium before switching to F2P. Major Western publishers composed free-to-play holdouts, but that’s crumbled in the last five years as Halo, Overwatch, Rocket League, and Destiny switched to free-to-play. The question for live-service franchises is now not if but when.

What was a sprint on mobile has been a decades-marathon transition in Western HD (PC & Console). Executives at major publishing houses have long harbored fears about relinquishing the consistent revenue from premium games. The apprehension traces its roots to mid-2010 wounds when F2P iterations of Battlefield (Heroes), Call of Duty (Play4Free), and FIFA (World) failed to take off. But the reason for mobile’s success mirrored HD’s failures; “it’s the distribution stupid.” In 2013, digital and physical sales of HD games were equally prevalent, a 50/50 split. By 2020, the digital market share shot up to 90%, leaving physical sales to a mere 10%. The limited extent of the digital HD market capped free-play success, while Steam only opened its doors to F2P in 2011, and full two years after Apple introduced the IAP,

In an economics fable as old as time, the relentless pressure of competition inevitably forces the hand of industry giants. As new firms enter the market, they drive prices down. Titles like Fortnite and Apex Legends forced PUBG’s F2P transition, a move that’s proven sustainable. Publishers have even woken up the idea of F2P as a sword rather than a shield.

Old premium behemoths are facing new F2P challengers. Ubisoft’s XDefiant has emerged as a bold contender against Call of Duty, while miHoYo devours Nintendo’s F2P apathy. Run down the Steam top seller list; a premium price smells like a F2P invitation. Are Rust and Dead by Daylight next to enlist in the F2P revolution?

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