Firemonkey's 3 for and boasts some of the most realistic graphics on a mobile device, has impressive race tracks based on real-world tracks and even an asynchronous multiplayer mode. But it's not the game's technical capabilities that have fans of the series up in arms — it's the controversial new free-to-play business model.
In an interview with Polygon, Kynan Woodman, development director at FireMonkeys explains the "driving force" behind the decision to go free-to-play with Real Racing 3. He says with the difficult learning curve of , the company needed to cast a broader net to reach the most customers as possible.
"Real Racing isn't an easy game to play, so we wanted to make it as broadly accessible as possible and the way of doing that is by going free," Woodman says.
He says gamers spend longer periods of time with free-to-play titles, so FireMonkeys added a lot more content with Real Racing 3. The studio wanted to make it a bigger game because in Real Racing 1 and Real Racing 2, players were running out of content fast but the model didn't allow them to create ongoing content.
"Real Racing 1 had 12 events; Real Racing 2 had over 70, with people still wanting more; and Real Racing 3 has 900 events, that's hundreds hours of gameplay," Woodman said. "There is so much to play that people can keep playing, and that's part of free gaming. The game is so big because we want people to keep playing it."
As with all free-to-play games, Real Racing features premium content which is available to buy individually or as content packs. Woodman tells Polygon as there are no gates or barrier tiers to purchase content, everything is possible to purchase straight away: So if players are willing to spend the money, it is available to buy. If not, he says, players must use the in-game currency "R$" they earn from playing races to buy cars, to do upgrades and perform repairs.
"So the way that it is working is that if you want to get that car faster or do repairs sooner, you can increase the speed of that by getting currency sooner by buying currency packs," he says. Players can purchase the in-game currency using real-world dollars. For example, the smallest currency pack of R$300,000 can be purchased for $9.99.
"Otherwise you can just race to get it eventually," he says.
Although players can buy top tier cars and tracks from the start, unlocking the purchased content takes time. Players are then given an option to pay for instant unlock on top of the purchase.
At the end of every race players are given a repair bill for damage accrued to the car. Players can wait for the repairs to finish in realtime, which vary depending on the type and quality of the car, or pay for immediate repairs.
Unsurprisingly, car upgrades also come at a price, yet it takes time to wait for upgrades to finish and players are required to pay more money for immediate upgrades.
The reaction of Real Racing fans to the freemium model has been largely a negative one; however, the studio believes that by going free and getting a bigger audience, it will allow them to make a better game for fans.
"Certainly we made a game that we want to play," Woodman explains. "We wanted to make the best possible racing game on mobile. That is number one for us. Going free makes it possible for more people to get this fantastic racing game. And people who enjoy the game can pay if they want to."
Real Racing isn't an easy game to play, so we wanted to make it as broadly accessible as possible and the way of doing that is by going free.
As players have to pay to repair damage, it would be easy for EA and FireMonkeys to amp the aggressiveness in the racing AI to tease out a larger monetary return on repairs. Woodman says it is typically humans who are the aggressors on the track and try to ram the AI off the road.
In asynchronous multiplayer, the AI tries to match the racing line and performance of the player who was last to race. Woodman explains that the AI wont "necessarily" be more aggressive in its actual racing line, but it will try and take that line.
FireMonkeys is pushing the freemium model alongside the asynchronous gameplay with friends. It is possible the mix could create tier rifts between friends, as one friend may be prepared to spend more on the game than another friend. Woodman believes there will be more than enough basic content and races for friends of disparate Real Racing tiers to play together. .
"We try to provide the opportunity for both players. The standard playthrough will eventually get you to those high end cars," he said. "If someone wants to get to that stuff early, they will certainly have someone to come up against. They will be able to play."
He also said the racing notification system will feed that rivalry. He gave an example of Bob, with his wish to play for free, and his friend, John, who has bought everything in the game.
"So you know, if Bob plays an early race and beats John — John will get a notification that he was beaten, so that will bring him to back play against that friend," he said. "We will keep that rivalry going on those earlier events — if that is where Bob is playing.
"And meanwhile John will be able to play on those high end events at the same time."
Real Racing 3 launched Feb. 28 worldwide on iOS and Android.