EA To Release "Free" Video Game In U.S. This Summer

Electronic Arts saw crazy profits in South Korea over the past two years from distributing its FIFA soccer title online for free, then charging an average of $1.60 per transaction for character clothing and accessories. Now EA has announced it will release a free online version of Battlefield Heroes in the U.S. and Europe this summer. If it proves successful, more titles will follow. Unfortunately, in addition to micro-transactions EA will also include in-game advertising to support the business model. Suddenly we’re picturing a surreal NASCAR battlefield… hey, that sounds like a new game idea! Pay up, EA!

EA resorted to online distribution in South Korea in part to combat rampant piracy, which BusinessWeek claims drove sales down from 250,000 in 2002 to only 10,000 in 2006. The new online version of FIFA soccer has been raking in an average of $1 million per month, “almost twice what it earned in its peak year of retail sales in 2002,” and is harder to pirate.

One analyst has this choice description of the business model:

It is like giving every little girl a Barbie doll that is naked and hoping she will accessorize. While you can still play with a naked Barbie, it is not as much fun as dressing her up.

Indeed.

“EA Leaps into Free Video Games” [BusinessWeek]

Comments

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  1. manok says:

    fuck EA

  2. Toof_75_75 says:

    Pretty good idea, though I think the naked Barbie would make for a more effective business model, but numbers don’t lie…I’m sure people feel like they are getting a better deal and are making a more independent choice when they buy the add-ons.

  3. emjsea says:

    Wow. A company expecting to make money for their work. How dare they? And what will think of to screw customers over next? I mean expecting you to pay for shit somehow… it’s just a slippery slope towards all-out paying for shit.

  4. forgottenpassword says:

    UGH! give the product away & sell the accessories for it.

    I hate scams like that. I wont be playing this game.

  5. Toof_75_75 says:

    It really is a good solution to battling pirating, as well.

  6. Toof_75_75 says:

    @Forgotten

    How is that a scam? You can play the game for free or you could have paid for and purchased the game to play it. As long as you can ignore the extras and even if you indulge and buy a few extras, you still get your money’s worth.

  7. manok says:

    when is EA going to fix the games me and others have PAID for? Huh? I say again..Fuck EA.

  8. MercuryPDX says:

    Suddenly we’re picturing a surreal NASCAR battlefield… hey, that sounds like a new game idea!

    Actually they are way ahead of you. The last EA Sports title I played featured in game billboards decorating the track with real ads.

  9. forgottenpassword says:

    @Toof_75_75:

    And what if its prettymuch impossible to “ignore the extras” & actually play in the game without them?

    Its like offering a free razor without any blades with it.

  10. MercuryPDX says:

    @manok: I have to second that sentiment citing Madden ’06 for PSP as the best game I accidentally didn’t buy.

  11. Toof_75_75 says:

    @ Forgotten

    If it is impossible to play w/o the extras, then ok, it’s a little suspect. If it is like most things (see, console gaming) then it’s not such a big deal. You can buy an X-Box 360 and not be able to do anything with it unless you buy other things for it.

  12. youbastid says:

    The only problem I have with this is the advertising. If they also offered an option to purchase a version with no advertising, that would be cool w/ me, but it doesn’t look like that’s gonna be the case.

  13. kc-guy says:

    I actually thought it was kinda weird that Wii Baseball didn’t have any ads on the billboards, even if they were for other games. Now that I think of it, cross-promotion would be a great idea…. Patent Pending.

  14. kingKonqueror says:

    If it’s impossible to play without the extras, then it’s just like selling a videogame the regular way. Not something to get mad about, but nothing particularly exciting either.
    I don’t see how this is a scam: you can just, you know, not buy extra stuff if you don’t want it. I think it’s quite a laudable move… like a free trial version on steroids.

  15. Toof_75_75 says:

    @youbastid:

    Well, theoretically, they are giving you “a better deal” because they are giving you this playable game for free thanks to in-game adverts. I agree with you though, it would be nice to be able to just outright pay for the game so you don’t have to be shovel-fed advertising within the game.

  16. mgyqmb says:

    EA! Sappin mah traditional game distribution channels!

    But seriously, TF24LIFE.

  17. Toof_75_75 says:

    Right on, KingK.

  18. MercuryPDX says:

    @Toof_75_75: From what I’ve read, the extras are costume related and only affect how your avatar looks.

  19. Phildawg says:

    really the ads in BF2142 are totally okay… I am not a big EA fun, but I like many of their franchises and if it helps them make more profit by putting in non-obtrusive ads like BF2142, I’m all for it!

    The more money a company makes, the more reason they have to continue developing and trying to acquire even more revenue streams.

  20. Phildawg says:

    @mercurypdx: Word on the street is if you don’t pay for a different model then you will be a barbie doll and everybody will make fun of you. F-U EA!!! Give me a free game then make me look like a fairy unless I pay you money! =)

  21. MercuryPDX says:

    @Phildawg: The only beef I have is when it doesn’t change the cost of the game because it’s subsidizing the cost to develop it.

  22. Toof_75_75 says:

    @mercurypdx:

    With that, I really don’t see a problem with the way they are doing this, then. Yeah, still annoying to have advertising, but you really get a FREE GAME. If you get excited, you can pay $5 or $10 and get some pretty clothes and still play your game, only having paid $5 or $10. Pretty good deal, overall. If you don’t like it, though, just don’t play it.

  23. Toof_75_75 says:

    @Phildawg:

    And we don’t want anyone to be mean to us on the internet!

  24. trujunglist says:

    The reason there were only 10k copies bought in 2006 is because everyone bought the 2002 version and NOTHING CHANGED. The problem EA has with their games is not that the games are awesome, because they’re generally and traditionally the best sports games available if you like somewhat realistic gameplay, but because it’s the same damn game every single year! They might slightly update graphics, change rosters, or change some minor detail in gameplay (which is usually annoying or badly implemented so that most people continue playing as if it were the last years version anyway), but the game is basically the exact same thing every single year. I still have NHL ’95 for Genesis, and the game is basically the exact same game as you get with NHL ’08, except there’s less loading time on ’95 and better graphics on ’08. The game has NOT changed in all of that time except for graphics, roster changes, and the yearly minor tweaks that they end up ditching for classic gameplay. Not only that, but if you ever buy say the ’07 version and decide to go pick up the ’08 version because you really need to have the rookies and can’t be bothered with changing the rosters yourself, you really can’t trade/sell/give away the ’07 version because everyone wants ’08.
    I went into Gamestop the other day because a friend and I wanted to play some NHL. I actually had NHL 2002, but apparently misplaced it. After looking around for like 2 minutes, you can see that they have every version ever created in that franchise. So, I decided to get a 2005 version, which only cost me 5 bucks! The 2003 version would’ve cost like $1, but I couldn’t find it. On the other hand, I could’ve gotten the exact same game in NHL ’08 for $50. Hmm, which do I buy…

  25. Toof_75_75 says:

    @trujunglist:

    I would agree with that. That applies across the board of sports game, generally. Madden, NHL, Tiger Woods, NBA, FIFA, NCAA, etc…

  26. t0fu says:

    @manok: well said

  27. MercuryPDX says:

    @Toof_75_75: Different article, but it reads to me like they are just grooming us for the nickel and diming future. ;)

  28. trujunglist says:

    P.S. I’m not saying that they should change the gameplay, because really, EA has the best sports gameplay around and have gotten there by not messing about with the default cameras and what not. But, it makes sense that the online versions do well; automatic roster updates and playing against people, not retarded AI (another EA problem since the SNES days) are two excellent reasons to buy that type of game. So what if the graphics never change? They hardly do anyway, and the basic game NEVER changes (for the better generally), even with graphical updates.

  29. Toof_75_75 says:

    @mercurypdx:

    I would agree that is quite likely. We’re a nation bred for being nickeled and dimed…just go to a hotel for a night, it becomes quite obvious.

  30. Toof_75_75 says:

    @mercurypdx:

    The interesting (read: scary) part of that article is the idea that to really excel in some games down the road you may really need to buy add-ons, otherwise you will remain “weaker” than the other players. Currently, they are solving that problem by grouping together players of roughly equal “handicap,” but can you see it in the future where you are playing a “free game” being destroyed by players who have spent $30 on addons? Loads of fun, possibly at hand. *tongue in cheek*

  31. lmartinez005 says:

    All we need now is an adblock-like program for games and we’re set.

  32. spinachdip says:

    When I was little, I had no problem playing with a naked Barbie doll. Hell, I preferred the Barbie doll naked. Then again, my being a pervy little boy might have something to do with that.

    As for this new distribution model, it’s hard to get worked up over. It might not be the most customer friendly, but it’s not atypical either. Epson and HP practically give away their printers, then charge out the ass for replacement ink. It’s the classic drug dealer model – give the first hit for free, and they keep coming back for more.

    @forgottenpassword: Actually, that’s basically Gillette does. I mean, you do get blades when you buy a new Fusion and you still have to pay for them, but I’m sure they’re losing money on the handles, but charge a huge markup on the blades.

  33. SaraAB87 says:

    Thats what happens to most free online communities, those that pay are outclassed by those that do not pay, even in children’s online games like Webkinz and Neopets. If you play free Neopets you are at a severe disadvantage since all the players play together, not to mention being subjected to a lot of inappropriate ads. With Webkinz you are encouraged to buy more and more physical stuff with codes on it to build your online account to be better than your friends in your classroom at your grade school since everyone is into it. With Shining Stars you have to buy a certain # of animals to get the codes off them in order to get to the “premium” level, if you play at any other level you are very disadvantaged. It works because my 2 cousins have almost 40 Webkinz between the 2 of them.

  34. TechnoDestructo says:

    How did EA even get to be the behemoth that it is, considering the DUNG they were shoveling at us in the 90s?

  35. Trai_Dep says:

    Naked FIFA players are MUCH more appealing than naked Barbies.

    Perhaps EA needs to change the model and add “enhanced” (cough) body parts?

  36. rewind says:

    Dunno if someone mentioned it, but from what I have seen, EA actually was not planning on putting the adverts in the gameplay itself, but rather in the splash/loading screens and menus.

    me – $.02

  37. Joafu says:

    And the decline of video games begins. Now if people use hacks to unlock clothing, they will have stolen ‘intellectual property’ and will be subject to lawsuit. Boo! I have come to hate EA, they pump out dime a dozen games, and I openly wept when I heard Bioware was acquired by them.

  38. coan_net says:

    I’m not sure why people have such a bad time with in-game advertisement. Heck, I like it.

    I mean i would much rather be driving down a street in a game and see an add for something real like “Pepsi” which I would see in read life.

    ….. where as in the past, most ads were either (1) an add to the company itself like an EA Sports ad, or (2) an add for a “fake” product like “Popsi Cola” which just annoy the heck out of me.

    Having real advertisement in the game is more like real life.

  39. jameslutz says:

    Warrock is already doing something like this, only you pay for use of weapons for a given time. Seems to be pretty popular.

  40. shoegazer says:

    It’s a good business model; people get a free taster of the gameplay and then scale up their consumption according to their means or obsession level. It’s like, I dunno, golf. Do we really need the $500 Driver to whack a plastic ball around? Some people think so.

  41. selectman says:

    @mgyqmb: Medic!!

  42. merkidemis says:

    Actually, the ads aren’t going to be in the game, instead, they’ll be on the website and on the game’s “front end.” Steam already does something like this, trying to get you to buy more Steam games. This Ars article ([arstechnica.com]) quotes Ben Cousins, the senior producer at DICE, about how the ads will work.

  43. smith186 says:

    @manok: Well, the flip side to an online game is that after release it becomes a service, therefore EA is strongly incentivised to keep updating and improving the game if they want to retain the players. They can’t just forget about it once it has been released.

    Subscription-based games, or virtual-property-based games, aren’t always a bad thing. It puts the onus on the developer to make a quality product, and to continue improving it.

    Or, to think about it another way, when you pay for Madden they get their $60 up front and you get the shaft if there’s problems. If Madden was a service, and you were paying $5 a month, they’d have to make sure the game was good enough to keep you entertained for a full year in order to get their $60. If it sucked, you could stop paying after a month, and they’d get almost nothing.

  44. rmz says:

    This is how they’ve been doing many games in other markets for year, such as MMORPGs in Asia. Almost none of them use a subscription model, but rather are free to play but you have to pay for other extras. This is nothing radical or new.

  45. rmz says:

    @rmz: YEARS, rather.

  46. One way of describing this model is like that of a crack dealer. You give a free entry, then you set up the addiction and bleed the customer dry. Lexis/Nexis uses this model nicely.

    A different way to look at it is as setting up a network externality. [en.wikipedia.org] Like razors.

    The MBA says, this is a brilliant business model and might be the model of the future. It allows mass customization, low startup cost, and customized costs over the life of the game. You don’t have to buy clothing in FIFA. Or you can buy like Paris Hilton. It’s the future. Get used to it.

  47. Morgan says:

    @TechnoDestructo: 1) Sports franchises that seem to sell no matter what 2) The Sims (and expansions) that seem to sell no matter what.

  48. m0unds says:

    @manok: i am in total agreement with you. i stupidly purchased battlefield 2 when it first came out. several patches were released and the game is still broken. instead of fixing all the broken stuff, they released several paid expansions and then another game (bf2142). fuck ea.

  49. Benstein says:

    This is a fabulous idea. PC Games are pirated like crazy, and the Battlefield series has been dying. By releasing this game free with ads, that ensures a very large audience will at least try it, and the pirating issue is non-existant since the game is supported by ads.

  50. Haltingpoint says:

    Anybody who thinks this could work out for consumers in some way (in other words, getting a free game) obviously have no clue how EA works.

    Mark my words, they would NOT be doing this unless they were going to make more money from a buyer than they normally would if they bought just a $50-60 game.

    Think $5 map packs, $3 additional weapon tiers, etc. If you want to do anything worth doing in this game, they will find a way to charge you for it.

    Their goal will be to minimize the number of people who will play the bare bones experience and the only way to do that in a battlefield game is to put those players at a disadvantage in some way (most likely equipment-wise).

  51. KashmirKong says:

    They have flash games like this on the internet already.

    Everyone is free to roam about the game as they please, doing missions or fighting other players.

    They have 2 types of game currency. Regular money and “special” money. All the best equipment and gear is nearly impossible to obtain without the Special money, and to get enough of the Special money, you have to play the game for months on end, or you can buy the currency with your credit card.

    Looking at Battlefield Heroes, this is how it’s going to work out:

    Anyone playing this Player-versus-Player game without spending any extra money will get absolutely slaughtered in the game by players who have spent extra money for weapon upgrades and health/armor boosters.

    Basically, your ability to succeed in this game will depend on some skill, but mostly from how much money you spend on the best equipment.