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Video Game Predictions for 2012 – Free to Play

January 5, 2012

It’s that time again when people start to gaze into their crystal balls see what the next 12 months holds for us.  Here’s a few bits of prediction that caught my eye…

Firstly I’m going to look at the Free-to-Play predictions for 2012.  No surprises for the main one – it’s a huge area:

Free-to-play and freemium will continue to make massive inroads as business models 

While free-to-play and freemium opportunities don’t suit every game or P&L (see: the recent closure of high-profile virtual world LEGO Universe), expect to see more titles and companies transitioning over to the business model. Credit the continued resonance and resilience of social networks and – most importantly – Web browsers, which are enjoying a presence on an ever-increasing range of mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. In the latter case, the advent of HTML 5 and other advancing technologies (e.g. Unity and the Unreal Engine, which now support 3D browser-based gaming) won’t just eventually give way to console-quality game experiences, graphics and online multiplayer connectivity. They could very well pave the road for commonplace programs such as Chrome, FireFox, Internet Explorer and Safari to become tomorrow’s most successful and ubiquitous game console.

While I agree that free-to-play will continue to be a major engine of development and income for gaming, I’m not so sure that 2012 will be just growth and growth. This method has huge advantages and huge disadvantages. The model came into its own with the success of Farmville – and people noticing it – at the end of 2010. I was at Gamescom in 2010 and recall seeing the Zynga stand there, it was not at all prominent. Nothing like the huge EA, Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo etc presence. Once other gaming companies noticed this emerging area, things started to take off. When other publishers saw the success of the model, they wanted in.  However there is a development delay in making the games. That means that there has been a year of development of lots of titles and 2012 will see all these newcomers launching – perhaps too many for the market to sustain (as with the MMO bubble). So expect growth, but ups and downs as new titles fight it out with established players.

Gamerlaw also has a prediction in this area worth serious attention – how the players of such games are treated:

(3) The legality and ethics of free to play will be a big issue in 2011.
I’ve been influenced by my friend Nicholas Lovell of Gamesbrief on this issue – read his post here.  I’m going to be speaking and writing about this a fair deal more in 2012, so watch this space.  In the meantime though, the short version is: the more that f2p focuses on influence/compulsion mechanics to get player to cough up dosh, the greater the legal and ethical risks it can raise – including the potential for regulators to start getting involved.  Stories like a UK child running up £900 in debt on Farmville for his mum  or a US child running up $1400 on Smurfville don’t really help.
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