Crytek believes that its upcoming free-to-play first-person shooter, Warface, could help players get over the prejudice of the free-to-play business model.
In an interview with Polygon, Crytek executive producer Joshua Howard said the studio is aware that some Western markets are hesitant about free-to-play, and the studio itself had some concerns about the business model getting a bad rap, but he believes the hesitation will not be a roadblock to the game's success.
"I think it's important to say, 'OK, let's separate the perception of the business model to the game itself,'" Howard says. "If we can deliver a super high-quality experience, I think it helps users get over that prejudice of the free-to-play business model, and then maybe they'll think, 'Gosh, well it's a Crytek game, it's really gorgeous and it's fun to play. Nevermind that it's super easy to jump into. OK, I'll give it a shot.'"
THE CRYTEK WAY
According to Howard, Crytek began considering the free-to-play business model six years ago after studio founder Cevat Yerli visited South Korea and saw the prevalence and success of free-to-play games in internet cafes.
"To [Yerli], it made him realize that it actually made a lot of sense," Howard says. "And it made sense for reasons that would also work in the West.
"For him, the idea that players could have the freedom to zap around from game to game was very powerful. So free-to-play came about for a variety of reasons, but ultimately the idea that it gave the player so much more freedom felt like a very exciting opportunity."
"The idea that it gave the player so much more freedom felt like a very exciting opportunity."
Howard admits that there were reservations from within the studio early on because little was known about the free-to-play model six years ago. Free-to-play had been widely associated with "pay-to-win" games that required players to spend money to have an advantage over other players. There was also the widely held perception that free-to-play games weren't to the standard or as valuable as traditional boxed games that required an upfront payment. If Crytek was to go free-to-play for any of its games, it had to be done "the Crytek way."
"It was important early on that we deliver a product that really met the expectations of what you might see out of a big production," Howard says.
This meant the studio had to make a game that was to the standard of a big-budget boxed title that people would pay money for, even if it was being released for free.
For Warface, Howard says the studio didn't ask its designers to think about free-to-play.
"If we focus on delivering a great experience for the player and how we can add value, then that generates the revenue," Howard says. "I think part of what we've seen in the industry is a myopic focus on driving the revenue in everything you do, and while in the short term that might be OK, I think in the long term it sort of results in a product that isn't really going anywhere and your players see that."
For Warface, Howard says the studio didn't ask its designers to think about free-to-play. It didn't ask its designers to think about monetization. "We said: 'Build us a great game, and then we should be able to look at that product and decide what are the hooks that make sense.'"
DIFFERENCE IN DESIGN
Howard describes Warface as a service. While most games — boxed retail or online — are now regularly updated and supported with new content, Howard says there's a distinction to be made between games that receive updates and games as services.
In the former, he says a studio might have a major release every three years and this determines how a studio is run, how teams are managed and the development arcs a studio might encounter. In the latter, the service is constantly running with no downtime — there is no opportunity to go on vacation after the game has shipped and it's unsustainable to put employees through crunch periods.
"You never really get to go home and sleep on a live service — you have to think about building and sustaining this thing in a very different way that results in different decisions," Howard says. "It also means we can tell a more nuanced story, and I don't mean just in the narrative."
Warface has been live in Russia for a year, and Howard cites it as an example of how players have helped inform the developers of where the game's story should go and what they should focus on. He says that being a live service means that instead of releasing a rigid product that is difficult to change later, they can see what resonates with players and allow player feedback to drive their design direction.
Warface is currently in closed beta for Windows PC. While there is still skepticism surrounding the shooter's free-to-play model, Howard believes that if players find the game fun, then whether it's free-to-play or out of a box becomes less important.
"The thing I would say to skeptics is just come give it a shot. And if it's not for you, that's fine. But I think you'll find that the core game is really enjoyable enough that you'll have to start reconsidering your expectations of free-to-play."