Last week, while announcing that Need for Speed World, Battlefield Heroes, Battlefield Play4Free and FIFA World will all be shut down in July, an EA exec stated that some of its F2P releases have declined in popularity. No ****, Sherlock. Upon seeing this news, I couldn't help wondering how the company feels about its strategy in this rapidly growing and thus increasingly important area. And earlier this month, Wargaming brought a smile to my face.
What's EA up to in the F2P space?
This isn't exactly a new question. As far as I can recall, the publisher has never clearly stated what its F2P strategy is. As a result, we've been left to make not very educated guesses based on snippets found in financial reports, press releases, other announcements, occasional interviews, etc. Other opinions may differ, but reading between the lines in such sanitized and/or spin-doctored communications hasn't ever given me any real sense of confidence that it has a cohesive plan. Instead, EA seems to want to dabble.
Consider Need for Speed World. The underlying franchise is unquestionably solid. It has been around for more than two decades. Total turnover for the series has reportedly surpassed 140 million units, probably representing at least $3 billion. We can only guess at how much EA's share has amounted to, but there's no doubt that the property has been very profitable.
Need for Speed World will shut down just days before its fifth anniversary. So, it's hard to deem it an epic fail. That said, my gut tells me that the action-racing adaptation of such an established, popular franchise should have lasted a lot longer. I admit that not having tried the game in at least two and possibly three years, I'm unfamiliar with how it plays nowadays. However, I recall it as a rather mediocre offering that could have been significantly better if it had received more love before it launched, and that this wasn't - or shouldn't have been - easy to see.
Granted this is pure conjecture on my part, if this impression was even in the ballpark (or should I say race yard?), it might tend to suggest that EA might not have been strongly committed to seeing what one of its important franchises could achieve within the F2P space. A more cynical view would be that the company thought this audience wouldn't be as discerning. Or maybe they felt players would be more forgiving because they hadn't paid for the game.
Where sports games are concerned, let's just say none has ever been my cup of tea. So, while I've seen people play FIFA World, I have neither any hands-on experience with it nor any basis to compare it against other soccer titles. While it's officially still in beta, this title debuted in Brazil and Russia in late 2013, then worldwide six months later. From what I've seen, it hasn't been well-received anywhere. Here again, my reaction is to wonder about releasing a title before it's sufficiently polished to represent properly the valuable IP that it bears.
EA's statement about the closings includes the sentence “Recently, we’ve been looking closely at the types of PC free-to-play experiences that players are engaging with across the world.” While it would be easy to dismiss this as PR-speak, I choose to hope the company is actually reassessing its approach to the F2P sector, and that this will lead to a new strategy and ultimately, to titles that will have much longer lifespans.
Tanks vs. Zombies
Many MMOGs do special things to mark April Fool's Day, but I'd like to toss a laurel in the direction of Wargaming for coming up with something I found particularly amusing. World of Tanks: Operation Undead is a fun little tower defense-style offering that charges you to hold back waves of invading zombies. A smile came to my face as soon as I saw the concept, and broadened when I discovered it's actually quite entertaining. Provided you don't expect a full, deep play experience, you might just enjoy it too.
Do you think EA actually has a strategy for its participation in the F2P space? If so, what is it, or what's your best guess?
What did you think of Need for Speed World? Why didn't it last longer? How well did it meet the standards you expect from the Need for Speed franchise?
What did you think of FIFA Online World?