Discussion of the industry's business
and development models has been the focus of so many articles, presentations,
and conversations for months, if not years now. What business models
will work in the future? What audiences should we be developing games
EA's Digital Illusions CE -- DICE --
is one of the company's most prominent studios. It has a history of
delivering the hardest of hardcore games -- the Battlefield series
of first person shooters for the PC. Contrasting that, the company has
a new, free-to-play project, Battlefield Heroes, in the works
Leading the charge of Asian-pioneered free-to-play
games at Electronic Arts, it marks an interesting step forward for the company, and
potentially for the entire Western market. Gamasutra
recently got the chance to speak to Ben Cousins, senior producer on Battlefield
Heroes, about the steps his studio is taking to push its own boundaries.
There are a lot of interesting things
about Battlefield Heroes. The first obvious thing is that it's
free-to-play, and what I'm interested in is, why did you decide to make
a free-to-play Battlefield game?
BC: DICE have always been, I think,
kind of at the forefront of online gaming. Whether it's 64 players in
a match, back in the day, having a live team which constantly updates
the game with free maps, et cetera.
So, DICE are always looking at new
and interesting things in the online sphere. And if you look at what's
happened in South Korea over the recent years, there's this new business
model which has cropped up, which is games which are free-to-play, but
where a certain proportion of the audience buy items.
And we just thought,
"Well, let's just try this. We've got an existing engine, we could
probably do it with a pretty small team; let's just experiment."
Now, there are a couple questions
that jump off from that, but the first one is: so, the business model
for the game is microtransactions?
BC: The business model is advertising
in the game's website, and in the game's menu, but not in the game itself.
And revenue from micro-item sales.
Which is character customization...?
BC: We think the community will define
what they want to buy, and what they don't want to buy. So we're really
open to selling things, and also them telling us, "Look, we don't
want to buy this."
But we think there are two areas where
people would be interested. First is your customization items, to change
the way your character looks. Maybe you want the gold helmet and a huge
mustache, or something like that; maybe a monocle. Those will be micro-items.
The other thing is what we call convenience
items: So let's imagine that the two of us are playing the game, and
you're playing the game every night for four hours, you're leveling
up your guy really fast, but I've got like a wife and kids, and only
play the game a couple evenings a week.
But I want to catch up with
you, so maybe I'll buy an item which gives me double the experience
points for a couple of days. So I'm still playing the game, I'm still
having to be skilled at the game, but I'm just leveling up my character
slightly quicker. So those are the two categories.