Free Computer Game Is Astoundingly Neither Ad-Based, Indie, Pirated Nor Crappy

Electronic Arts is shaking the video game publishing model by releasing the fantasy-themed real-time strategy game BattleForge as a free download.

Rare for a freebie, the game comes from a major studio, has pulled down respectable reviews, isn’t a barely-disguised commercial and won’t put you in danger of landing in federal prison.

So what’s the deal here, is EA just doing this out of the goodness of its corporate heart, to reward loyal gamers who shell out ungodly portions of their paychecks to buy their wares? Of course not. The idea is to hook you on the gameplay, which requires you to buy extra virtual playing cards which bolster your battle options. But since EA and other game companies already try to shove paid downloadable content down your throats for games that cost $50 or $60, it’s nice to have a starting price that’s quite a bit more reasonable.

Play BattleForge For Free Right Now [Game Informer]

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  1. unajuaner says:

    Kind of reminds me of Magic the Gathering. What a money sink that was….

    • Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

      @unajuaner: That’s exactly why I finally had to stop playing. 3 sets a year, every year, must be purchased to keep up with the current Type 2 game, and if you didn’t go back and buy all the old cards, too, you had no chance of being competetive in Type 1 play.

    • MosesKabob says:

      @unajuaner: Back in college, we swore that the cards were coated with heroin.

    • swearint says:

      @unajuaner:
      I gave up on MTG about the time Ice Age was released. Not so much because of the cost, but because of all the rules conflicts and intrepretations. It got to the point you needed a big print-out of rulings just to play the game. I still have all my cards and recently checked the values, some of them have appreciated nicely.

    • GuinevereRucker says:

      @unajuaner: Yeah, being a cheap MTG player sucks :) But it can still be fun… I still use the same ten-year-old decks when I play. They’re not “legal” but still fun.

    • jamar0303 says:

      @unajuaner: Which is why I never touched it in the first place. Now Pokemon, on the other hand… Well, the only cards I have are limited-edition cards that I got for watching a couple of the movies. Still wrapped… I should see how much that would go on eBay.

    • Easton21 says:

      @unajuaner: Cheesus, you guys are nerds.

    • attackgypsy says:

      @unajuaner: It may have been a money sink to you, but it was a godsend to hundreds of little comic book stores. It hit big just as comics peaked in value, so as comics went down, Magic went up. It saved so many of the from folding.

      Later on, it was Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh cards, but basically the same thing.

  2. YouInTheBack says:

    This isn’t a new concept, giving away the game but selling upgrades for cash, but it’s one of the first times a major game studio is doing it. It’s mostly smaller studios nobody’s ever heard of.

    I’ve played plenty of games like this, and while you can enjoy the game for free, you will inevitably be crushed every once in a while by someone who has spent $50-$100 on upgrades for their character or army or whatever. I know people that have spent $300+ on games like this because it’s so easy to gain the upper hand. You simply buy your way to the top.

    But it sounds promising, I’ll check it out when I get home today.

    • MosesKabob says:

      @YouInTheBack: I have to admit, I love this concept. All the world needs now is about 10,000 less “Mafia/Godfather” style games.

      • takes_so_little says:

        @MosesKabob: …or you could just not buy them.

        • nakedscience says:

          @takes_so_little: Did he say he did?

          • takes_so_little says:

            @nakedscience: How could a genre you don’t care for possibly bother you if you don’t buy games in it? I don’t care for country music, so I don’t stop on that station on the dial. Shanina Twain doesn’t come to my house and slash my tires or something.

            • Murph1908 says:

              @takes_so_little:

              Only so many games come out per year. If a large chunk of them are a genre you don’t like, it can get annoying.

              I don’t particularly like FPS (with some high-quality exceptions). But a few years back, that’s ALL that was getting made.

              For people who don’t like RTS, there was an annoying year or 2 for them too.

              Now, it’s open world, Godfather/Mafia/GTA games. Though the prevalence of these don’t seem to compare to the monopoly that FPSs had, but that might just be bias.

            • Cyberxion101 says:

              @takes_so_little: It’s entirely possible that he played a couple of them before he determined that they were shite.

              He just may be one of those rare gamers who doesn’t take one poor example of a genre to mean the whole thing sucks and so was compelled to try another, and was unfortunately proven wrong. :P

        • YouInTheBack says:

          @takes_so_little:
          I don’t pay. I enjoy the free game for free. What I’m saying is that some of your competitors WILL pay, and they will lay the beat down on you.

  3. shepd says:

    VERY interesting. Seems like EA got absolutely crushed by a clue bat! Of all publishers, EA is the last I would have thought to do this. They’ve been teh suck since they change their name from ECA.

  4. bloggerX says:

    “…and won’t put you in danger of landing in federal prison.”

    Too funny!

  5. HogwartsAlum says:

    Is this a multi-player game?

    I don’t play those because I can’t afford them and I don’t have time to defend myself against people who play them constantly. One of my friends plays WoW and said I should try it, but I know I’ll get killed inside of five minutes.

    Like that episode of South Park.

    • secret_curse says:

      @HogwartsAlum: Actually, WoW can be pretty n00b friendly. I tried the 30 day free subscription one time and it wasn’t my cup of tea, but I didn’t get constantly griefed by high level characters. You can choose whether or not to play against other people. I’m sure people that actually play WoW can expand on all the different options.

      • erratapage says:

        THere’s no real penalty for getting killed in WoW. And, if you don’t want to get killed, you just play on a PVE server, and stay out of harm’s way until you are more accustomed to what your character can do.

        If you are intimidated by starting something like this, WoW is a great place to start. However, it *is* a time sink.

        The other thing is that the monthly subscription is often cheaper than the pay to play well systems such as this EA release.

        @secret_curse:

    • Saboth says:

      @HogwartsAlum:

      WoW is a very noob friendly game. Not a high learning curve, and no real penalty for death. You should give it a try if you have at least 15-20 hours a week of free time. I just weaned myself off of it over a year ago. In my hayday though, I probably put 30-50 hours a week into it (as a single bachelor).

    • s73v3r says:

      @HogwartsAlum: Really, the only thing you need to play WoW is time. You can play on servers where you don’t have to worry about higher level characters, but you still have to spend lots of time getting your mining skill up so you can mine that ore so you can take it to your blacksmith friend who has their skill up high enough to use the ore and make it into something you can use or sell.

  6. OminousG says:

    Consumerist needs to be more back research, and not simply pump out PR for other companies.

    Magic The Gathering Online allowed users to play online with guest accounts years ago, and you weren’t restricted to only 32 cards.

    • s73v3r says:

      @OminousG: I found the slam against Indie games in the headline kind of insulting, too.

      • Cyberxion101 says:

        @OminousG: Leaping Lizard Software isn’t exactly a huge developer, now is it? Neither is Wizards of the Coast, for that matter.

        See, the Consumerist didn’t suggest that this game as the first of its kind in all of (digital) creation. A fact which the headline alone should have clued you in to. No, the Consumerist is simply expressing surprise that it comes courtesy of EA, a developer that doesn’t have a reputation amongst gamers for being all that generous.

        That said, it just seems more like EA’s attempt to capitalize on a smart business model more than it is an altruistic move on the company’s part. Give away the razor, and charge for the blades, or whatever.

        @s73v3r: Which is a commentary on your frame of mind, I think. :P

        You should have interpreted it as meaning that indie games are often free, rather than that indie games suck. :P

  7. karmaghost says:

    EA is also doing this with Battlefield: Heroes, which is in beta right now. The game is free, but you have to pay to get weapon and ability upgrades. This is not a new concept at all.

    • LastVigilante says:

      @karmaghost: When the deuce is Battlefield: Heroes going to be released anyways? Is it still in closed beta? I remember reading about it a year ago and getting somewhat excited about it, and then I just never heard from it again.

      • Riddar says:

        @LastVigilante: I don’t know when it is getting released, but if you look you should be able to find a way in too hard. They are really opening the beta more, I got mine along with 100,000 invites from Gamespot a while back.

        It’s actually quite fun! Surprisingly so, even. There are just three maps, the balance is way off, and there are a few annoyances, but the premise is solid. I give them a decent chance of having the map stable filled and the classes balanced by launch.

        And they don’t sell weapons, only aesthetic customizations and experience boosters (to move up faster, not instantly). That is a reason I enjoy it so much, you don’t get outclassed by people who want to buy things.

  8. Matthew Frank says:

    It’s not a “free game” per se. More like a free trial. I downloaded it before yesterday, before reading this article. What you’re given in the “Play 4 Free” version is not yours to keep. You receive loaner cards or units. If you purchase the retail pack ($30?) that’s your initial buy in right there, before buying new units.

    So it’s more like a “Free Trial!”

  9. Matthew Frank says:

    I could be wrong. What I read in the game itself seems to contradict what I’m seeing in articles.

    I just saw that the $30 retail kit has 64 cards + 3000 points (used to buy more cards).

  10. lvhotrain says:

    As a very casual Magic: The Gathering (hardly buy any new cards anymore) player and casual WoW player I was excited about this game. Gave the Beta a shot and it was just ok. If I wanted to spend as much as it cost to buy all the new MTG cards, I’d just play MTG. Not a bad concept, but too $$$$.

  11. illtron says:

    I’m pretty shocked that it’s taken this long for video game publishers to start giving away the game to hook players for something else. I know there are costs to cover, but it always kind of shocks me that players fork over money for World of Warcraft every month yet still pay full price for the game and the expansion packs. You’d think they’d be cheap at least.

    • Ratty says:

      @illtron: Twenty bucks for the full game and a month is pretty cheap.

      You also probably don’t play if you say that–yeah, full expansions are going to cost. but every major patch new dungeons and other cool things get released without any extra charge.

    • s73v3r says:

      @illtron: If you’re paying for the basic WoW client, you’re not looking hard enough. Most, if not all MMO games will let you download the base game client for free, because they want to hook you with the $10-$15/month fee.

      The expansions are another story, as they typically have new areas, classes and content that people are willing to pay for, especially if they’re started running out of content on the regular game.

  12. highpitch_83 says:

    As far as I can tell this is just a test to see if they can make this distribution model just as or MORE successful than the $60/retail copy model that currently exists (it would also kill the re-sale/used games market).

    EA’s one of the few companies that has the scratch to take on such a research endeavor.

    • Zegridathes says:

      @highpitch_83: There’s not so much research to it anymore, South Korea / Southeast Asia has been utilizing a model like this for years now and has been successfully transitioning it to the west for nearly as long. At this point, there’s enough quality products on the market that the challenge facing a developer/publisher is making an experience compelling enough to become profitable with enough room for expansion to keep players engaged.

      Especially with the ‘pay as much as you like’ model, you can develop a small dedicated following that essentially subsidizes the game for everyone unwilling/unable to contribute.

  13. TacoChuck says:

    Be sure to check out Dungeon Runners if you want a good free mmorpg to play. Again, you can pay 5 bucks a month for some minor upgrades but it is totally playable on the free version.

  14. Ghede says:

    The reason it’s recently been made free to play is NOBODY IS PLAYING IT. They charged what…50 bucks, and expect you to purchase “Card packs” to get new units? That’s right, you have to pay for in game units. It isn’t free, it’s microtransaction based.

    • s73v3r says:

      @Ghede: That’s the point: They’re trying a new game model where the game program itself is free, but if you expect to be competitive at all, you’re gonna have to pay for better units. But if you’re just a casual player who doesn’t care, you probably can get by with the free units, or maybe one or two purchased units.

      Essentially the heavier users subsidize the game for the lighter users.

  15. clyde55 says:

    EA’s Sims 3 launches next Tuesday for $50 U.S. At the same time they are launching the Sims 3 Store to buy extra content that was purposely left out of the base game which comes with minimal content. So besides the $50, they expect you to pay more XXX amount of dollars at game launch. And you’re singing EA’s praises?

    • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

      @clyde55: Though never really having played either, it looks like Sims 3 is playing serious catch-up with Second Life, and seems doomed to failure.

      *Yes I know that The Sims in general has been around much longer than SL.

    • Jacob Morgan says:

      @clyde55:
      Don’t forget the free user-created content, though. If The Sims is known for anything (other than the excessive expansion packs), it’s the user-created content.

      • anduin says:

        @Jacob Morgan:
        actually if you look back at the shift from sims 1 to sims 2, they got rid of the modding tools they offered people in the first game because more people were downloading content than buying one of their dozen expansion packs. In fact the stuff that was modded in Sims 2 often ended being stolen by EA and published in a official expansion or stuff pack. What theyre doing with Sims 3 is another step forward in making video games a medium people are getting angrier about. Charging $10 for extra furniture that should be in a base game, I mean its not an expansion they’re launching here. Its a whole new game. So I take these praises for EA with a grain of salt because with EA, there is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAAAYYYSSS a catch.

  16. GrandGouda says:

    Personally, I’m addicted to a free game on Facebook. It’s got great graphics, instead of the 1000 Mob Wars clones that are all text-based with an image or two, this one is FLASH based with animations of the battles and some pretty in-depth game play. The game is called Battle Stations, and is an Airship Captain theme. If you try it, I think you’ll like it, it’s awesome and addictive…

    If anyone is interested in giving it a try, you can use this link to create your Captain:

    [apps.facebook.com]

    And, no, I’m not related to the developers in any way, just an honest Battle Stations addict. And, yes, I do get a little bonus if you join with my link.

  17. ShuchismitaAstydameia says:

    It’s based on microtransactions; basically there is no up front fee or monthly fee. Instead, you pay a small fee for something of added game value. While it seems like a good idea, those microtransactions can quickly add up to be more than the cost of a game or monthly fees. If you don’t partake in the fee system, you will always be behind those that do–these games almost always have a competitive element, so there will be strong incentive to keep up with the “Joneses” in order to have fun. This is not a positive development for consumers.

  18. cunninglinguine says:

    This is just like that crappy Korean game Navy Field.

  19. Micromegas says:

    This isn’t free. It’s an insult to customers. It’s another step in the direction of doing away with buying games off the shelf, and instead having a market where you pay full retail price for just the framework for a game, and to actually play it you have to allow yourself to be constantly nickeled-and-dimed for the real game content.

    • anduin says:

      @Micromegas:
      its the gamers fault, I swear a turning point was Oblivion, shitty mods for way too much money and people took a bite because honestly, as high and mighty gamers think they are, they are dumb asses ultimately (yes I am a gamer but Im cheap so Im immune to being nickle and dimed)

  20. rhys1882 says:

    Piracy is pushing PC game makers into more varied pricing options such as this. This is why MMOs in general are so popular. Requiring separate online purchases tied to account information routes the majority of the revenue stream through piracy-proof systems. This is just a variation of that. Similar to the rise in downloadable content in general. I would not be surprised to see a rise in free basic versions being released with subsequent online episodic content being released that has to be purchased digitally.

    • anduin says:

      @rhys1882:
      you could argue that by adopting these new pricing methods its driving more consumers to piracy. I swear, when I was 12-16, I would by a new game a month and I don’t regret any of those purchases because I never bought what I wouldn’t enjoy and the prices were reasonable + no nickle and diming. I can’t remember the last time I purchased a game at full price because more often the not the games are just not as fulfilling driving me to try games via downloading them to see if Id play it for more than a day and more often than not, companies are starting to withold content from us so that they can release it a few weeks later for an extra $5-10. It doesn’t make me feel guilty anymore.

  21. Saltillopunk says:

    Does anyone remember a version of Wing Commander being released for free for a limited time around 96 or 97? There was the core game and a few missions which were released every week or so. I know I have them on a zip disk somewhere, and although I didn’t play it through, I don’t recall any adds or other catch to it. I remember it was a big deal for a major company to be releasing a established franchise game at the time.

  22. chigaimasmaro says:

    This isn’t a new concept… South Korean companies have been swimming in the piles of money they’ve made through the micro-transaction market for years now.