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Was launching Mercenary Kings for free on PS Plus worth it? Exclusive
April 25, 2014 | By Mike Rose

April 25, 2014 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing, Exclusive, Video

As the co-founder of Montreal-based Tribute Games, programmer Jean-Francois Major has had to make some big calls for his company in recent times -- but none so big as launching their latest game for free via PlayStation Plus.

The team launched side-scrolling retro shooter Mercenary Kings for PC via Steam Early Access last summer, and hit full release just last month. At the same time, Major and his team were also prepping the PlayStation 4 launch, and had been asked whether they'd be up for launching as a free title for PS Plus subscribers.

"The decision was particularly tough because I knew the sales we had during Steam Early Access," Major tells me. "They we're good, but could we expect the same exact bump when we launched officially?"

"Sadly, the answer is no," he adds. "We did get a boost in sales. But it really didn't match our initial Early Access launch."

Taking this information into account, Major had a much better idea of what to expect when it came to the end result of the free PS Plus launch -- and as it turned out, he believes it was worth it.

"I'm happy we traded a bit of risk for a PS Plus deal," he says. "Maybe we could've done better on our own, but the PS Plus deal was a safe bet. We'll gamble a bit more on the next project!"

"I'm happy we traded a bit of risk for a PS Plus deal. Maybe we could've done better on our own, but the PS Plus deal was a safe bet."
In fact, says the dev, the only real drawback to launching for free via PS Plus was that Tribute suddenly had too many people trying the game!

"We just weren't ready to support that," he says. "The game could've done with a month or two of extra bug fixing. And while the reception has been pretty awesome, there are those Call of Duty players we just can't convert to 2D games that will trash your game because it's not 'next gen' enough for them."

"So in the end, there are no regrets. It brought tons of gamers to the Tribute family!"

Knowing what Major knows now, I mentioned to him that lots of people will now not buy PlayStation games at launch, because they believe that games will quickly become free via PS Plus. From his experience with PS Plus, how does he feel about that?

"I'm pretty confident you can compare the PS Plus deals to Steam Sales," he answers. "While it may keep some from buying your game day one, in the end, it doesn't really kill sales - it allows you to reach a bigger audience that might not be willing to try your game at the premium price."

Case in point: "I've seen so many tweets that started with 'Really Sony, a 2D game. Is this why I bought a PS4?!' and ended with 'Ok I'll admit, Mercenary Kings is actually fun.'"

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Jarod Smiley
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Love the PS+ deals...Still don't have as many Indy titles as Steam, but the best ones do seem to eventually and sometimes immediately make there way over to consoles.

Only thing missing from PS4 is a MOBA equivalent, but I guess the fighting game community will fill the streaming community aspect soon enough. Hopefully a SF4 Ultra port is coming this year.

Wendelin Reich
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Wait... so Sony allows one PS4 game to be promoted as "free" for one month, and the only thing the developer gets out of that is the opportunity of providing that game? No other compensation?

Joel Nystrom
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Yeah this was my thought too.

Shau Jin Neow
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Nope, Sony paid them. The norm is the developer will make an estimates of potential sales of the game if it's not free and quite Sony a price.

Ujn Hunter
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Am I the only one that wishes you could opt to "buy" games instead of getting them "FREE"? I want to buy this game on my PS4... but because I have an active PS+ membership, I can't. I can only download it as a "FREE" rental that is tied to my account which doesn't allow me to buy the game in the future when (hopefully) it goes off the PS+ "FREE" list... I wish I had either the option to "buy" or to deactivate my PS+ membership so that I can buy it... so aggravating. Don't want rentals tied to my account.