Star Wars: Battlefront Should Go Free To Play
Famous clairvoyant Superdata Research made a prediction with her wicked pack of cards, and the future of Star Wars: Battlefront is grim. The $800 million IP will be a financial disappointment and internet covens have chimed their agreement. Battlefield’s cousin was doomed from birth and Battlefield 4, while successful, signaled the franchise's decline. Subsequent titles earned decreasing digital sales (EA chose not to reveal Battlefield Hardlines revenue—a troublesome indicator). While the 2015 holiday season signals huge profits for the gaming industry too many factors are squishing Star Wars: Battlefront out of business.
There’s a smoking blaster hole in EA’s white plastoid body armor. Star Wars; Battlefront does not include a server browser, but “will utilize a new skill based matchmaking system.” PC players note games lacking matchmaking systems have notorious reputations—failing to pair players, difficulties playing with friends, and an inability to filter preferred games. And no community-run servers prevents independent communities from forming—Twitch streamers, clans, etc.—and cripples long-term support. Games are more than just a playthrough, but encompass an entire collective passionate about playing. Perhaps a server browser tool doesn’t affect the console crowd, but numerous PC players have already declared a personal boycott.
Why play Star Wars: Battlefront when there’s a parade of upcoming titles anyway: Fallout 4, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, and Halo 5 Guardians? Each one releasing in succession, with Battlefront panting to catch up. The bus is poised to drive away and Battlefront will be left stranded as players preoccupy their time surviving outside Vault 111. And Call of Duty is the most anticipated game for Fall 2015. Releasing on November 06, 2015, eleven days may not be enough time for players to make the jump from COD to Star Wars. Battlefront concludes a major sales period. But there won't be enough spare cash or time to play.
If holding protest signs and turning out empty pockets wasn’t enough evidence of a wounded Battlefront, keep in mind EA is banking on the holiday season. But it’s unorthodox to wrap digital download codes under tinsel, rather than buy a tangible plastic case housing a disc. Little Jimmy’s parents want to film their son ravenously tearing apart a wrapped package, not open an envelope with a 15 character string. But retailers take a significant cut of every physical sale—around 20%.
SuperData’s optimistic prediction anticipates $782 million gross revenue in the first 12 months of Battlefront’s release. And retailers will pocket $121 million. But Walmart isn’t the only conglomerate taking a cut. Disney devours pie and the entertainment behemoth wants a hefty slice, a posited 10%-15%, valued around $100 million. Factor in royalties plus miscellaneous expenses and Star Wars: Battlefront will take home $316 million, paltry earnings considering the investment made creating the game.
While Star Wars: Battlefront hearkens Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens’ theatrical release in December, the hype-train will not be enough to salvage the game. It will reach critical mass around the holidays and falter under the weight of variable pressures. Why not adopt a free to play model and save the galaxy?
Free to play is the future and exemplary success stories abound. It would be a bold step for Electronic Arts (the company still monetizes Ultima Online). But since transitioning to a free to play model in 2011 Team Fortress 2 has consistently remained in the Top 10 most played games on Steam. While World of Tanks earned $369 million in 2014, while League of Legends pocketed $946 million the same year. The audience for free to play titles is 6 times larger than the pay to play market, putting the game in the hands of players who otherwise dismiss its value.
Free to play reaches a larger global market. In many countries around the world players are relegated to internet cafes, particularly in countries like where there isn’t an established console presence. And free to play appeals to Eastern markets where the approach is widely adopted, especially China.
Future shooters like Overwatch, Unreal Tournament, and Paladins will all be free to play. Star Wars: Battlefront’s largely distinguishing feature is the Star Wars brand sticker slapped on. And after fervor wears off it falls into the vast category of multiplayer shooter. "Star Wars" not enough when the game is priced at $60.
Make a base version of Battlefront free to play, similar to World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2. And charge to unlock additional components of the game, such as a level cap or restrictions to available maps. The audience will surge and some players who otherwise scoffed from a distance will find themselves addicted, and willing to purchase the full package. Offer enough to wet the palette, and then sell the game in the gift shop. It will increase digital sales, the sphere where market gravity is strongest.
Charge players for experience buffs but ensure a robust matchmaking system never mixes different tiers of players. Sell hats and cosmetics: nation’s flags, custom skins, colorful laser blasts. Appeal to the "whales." In 2013 Tencent raked in $957 million through Crossfire while Nexon's Dungeon Fighter Online brought home $426 million. A free to play user is worth a great deal. Cash shops can exist and be fair—Maplestory is an excellent example. Keep items cheap, no more than $10 to entice average players. Don’t let it become essential to play competitively and Star Wars: Battlefront could generate enormous revenue.
Western publishers have been reluctant to adopt the free to play model amid Western gamer’s pugnacious attitude. But it’s an inevitable consequence of market inertia. Free to play is predicted to grow to $10.9 billion by 2018, shadowing over a $2 billion pay to play sector (dropping from $2.7 billion). Pay to play games are slowing growth with the enormous catalog of free to play alternatives, and the mobile gaming boom that’s building its own Everest. The physical distribution model is a costly and dated means that will eventually fade, and exist solely as a Wikipedia article. Slapping on a brand sticker and charging premium price is not enough to save the franchise. And at this rate there won’t be a Star Wars: Battlefront 2 unless EA takes serious measure to distinguish the game’s place in the market. “It is not the strongest that survive but those most adaptable to change.”
SuperData Research: Even at $800M Star Wars IP won’t reverse the Battlefield decline
VentureBeat: 10 online PC games that made more than $100M in microtransaction sales last year
Nielsen: Holiday 2015: The Most-Anticipated Games