Free To Play – The New Way Forward For The PS Vita?

For decades, console gamers have been used to going into stores and simply paying for games. Since the advent of the PS3 and XBox 360, things changed and downloadable games have become an established and acceptable method of buying games alongside their retail counterparts (gaming provider), but now we’re being offered a third option that could change the game once again.

Free To Play (F2P) isn’t a new concept in the gaming industry. Anyone who plays games on social media sites such as Facebook will be used to this already and be used to the format already. The games themselves are always free to sign up for a start playing but tend to be either flooded with adverts at every opportunity or offer premium virtual in-game items that enhance the game. Those that have set objectives and missions, while not needing these premium items, are often easier to complete with the use of these or the goals can be completely quicker – something that is essential sometimes when time is against you.

The concept has also made the transition to MMORPGs that don’t ask for subscription charges. Instead they give players enhanced options and controls over their characters, more choice in terms of costumes, abilities and so on, generally improving the gaming experience. It doesn’t stop the games from being played but certainly to get the most out of them you need to pay for them. While they may seem great value initially as “free” games, for players who are addicted to these, they can find them considerably more expensive than their full price counterparts.

Certainly, it’s something that Android tablet and smartphone users have come to expect on a daily basis as well. If games aren’t released at pocket-money prices, then they are either released with enhanced paid-for content or loaded with adverts throughout the game. Even if the adverts are intrusive appearing throughout gameplay meaning that the games are unplayable without any form of internet connection, it does mean that a wealth of software is available freely. Infact, the Android editions of all of the Angry Birds titles are all available in paid and free versions depending on whether you are happy to have the game with adverts or not.

The PS3 first saw this with PlayStation Home. While access to Home, all the areas and games themselves were free, customising your character, and your apartment wasn’t nor were some of the more enhanced aspects of the games. Using Home for just a short period of time, it’s evident that a large number of users have purchased new outfits and don’t seem to have any issues with paying for premium content so this model – with the right items available – can and does work.

Generally for games it’s not something we have objected to for the last few years either. I’m sure most PS3 owners have purchased at least one form of DLC or another to expand one of their games. While not quite the same, these publishers offering DLC are using this additional content to subsidise the ongoing development and support of their games and to offset any potential risks of low sales. Certainly the free expansions and online play of Burnout Paradise was supported because of the successful sales of the paid content.

So how is F2P making an impact on the Vita? Slowly at the moment but we are starting to see a few games appearing right now and it could be a step in the right direction… Surprisingly, the Vita was blessed with a range of early free games available from the PSN Store including one of my personal favourites, Frobisher Says! With a range of titles showcasing the features of the Vita including casual games, AR Play titles and the downright bizzarre, there was something for everyone, but most importantly they were all wallet-friendly.

Right now we seem to be seeing a range of titles that are using this model in a variety of ways but for gamers it means that we are getting quality games at a price that is dictated by us, the gamers. Some, like Cliff Diving and Frobisher Says! are free initially and are fully playable games in their released state and charges only come into play if you want additional downloadable content and extra levels. Treasures Of Montezuma Blitz adopts a system seen on many Facebook games, allowing you to buy crystals which allows you to purchase power-ups to enhance the game and again, while these can be earned during play it will take a lot longer!

Most of the AR Play games are free but offer enhanced game modes for a small charge and even the PlayStation Mobile titles are getting in on the act… Lemmings offers some levels free with more for a charge and Bullion Blitz offers one game mode free (and even this one alone makes it a great game worth downloading), but there are two additional game modes available separately or as a bundle. Finally, one of the latest releases, Jetpack  Joyride has been released for the PS3 and PS Vita freely (compared with the Minis version that was a paid for game) and while all of the weapon and vehicle upgrades can be bought using in-game cash that you can save up, with the high cost of many of them it can take a very long time, even for the more accomplished players so investing in the game could be seen as an option for some.

Paying for these “free” games won’t be an option for everyone. However, if it’s a game that you love playing and think that you’ll get enough enjoyment out of them then what’s to say that you wouldn’t have paid the same for a normal PSN Store release? If it means that we will see more quality titles released for the PS Vita as developers are willing to take a risk in the hope of receiving greater long-term rewards for their work, then it could be the start of a renaissance in Vita gaming…


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