Capcom, like essentially all major Japanese game publishers these days, is making a major push into free-to-play titles. Deep Down, the company's big PlayStation 4 release, is a F2P role-playing game, a first for Capcom on consoles. It's a pretty bold experiment for the company, and one that producer Yoshinori Ono is prepared to face some criticism for.
"The first thing is to make a real, full-on game," Ono said in an interview with Famitsu magazine. "There are some people that see Deep Down being a free-to-play title as a negative thing. The fact that these people exist is a sign, I think, that we in the game industry have failed to produce good F2P games. However, if these people have a good, fun experience with an F2P title, that impression's going to change."
Ono isn't the only Capcom dev looking at the F2P market. Motohide Eshiro, a veteran producer whose most recent U.S.-released title is Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies, also released Blade Fantasia in Japan, an iOS role-playing game that's almost entirely free-to-play but features character upgrades for cash.
"I think that a pure 'pay to win' strategy leads to nothing but dissatisfaction," Eshiro told Famitsu. "If you put that front and center, the trend is for users to say 'I don't want to put money up to this, so I won't bother; I'll just let the paying people have their fun by themselves'. The gameplay structure itself winds up shortening the lifespan of the game. That's one of the reasons why most of Blade Fantasia is playable for free. However, after the release, I've found that if you provide content in response to what the users are looking for, they'll gladly pay the market price for it. That was key to learn. From our perspective, we naturally work to improve the earnings a game receives, but we want to continue with this game in a way that satisfies users and makes them feel happy to contribute to."
As Ono put it, the online game marketplace shares a lot in common with the more traditional ways companies attempt to appeal to customers. "A department store can attract customers from all walks of life, and gamers are the same way," he said. "There's a wide range, from people who love games to those who just use them as quick timewasters. We have to answer the needs of each potential customer. That's why we have core titles like Deep Down alongside games where you can use touch controls to launch a Hadouken. I think that if users can get hooked on one of these games and learn about the Capcom name that way, that'll lead us to the future.
"In the future," Eshiro added, "I think the mainstream approach will be to divide games into tiers based on payments. There's a tier where you can play just fine for free, and there's a tier with users that pay cash to boost their characters, really devoting themselves. Then there's a middle tier, for people who don't cash in that much but are willing to pay for content that they like. Having a game design where users can decide which tier is right for them is an important aspect in getting people to play for longer, and securing that allows us to provide better service."