'The $1bn Skyrim of free-to-play is coming'

'The $1bn Skyrim of free-to-play is coming'

By Rob Crossley in London

March 28th 2012 at 12:13PM

F2P Summit: Story-driven triple-A games will thrive when sold for free, Ngmoco Sweden manager claims

Ngmoco executive Ben Cousins has made a striking long-term prediction that triple-A games, with budgets perhaps as high as a billion dollars, will shape the future of free-to-play gaming.

Speaking at the inaugural Free to Play Summit in London, Cousins claimed that the freemium model will not forever be synonymous with lowered risks and small budgets.

“I am totally 100 per cent convinced that we will soon have a game like Skyrim that’s free to play,” he said.

He was not speaking on Bethesda's plans specifically, but using Skyrim as an example of the quality people should be expecting.

Cousins said that a single player, story-based, scripted game – the kind that Bethesda has a renowned acumen for – will soon be available for free and monetised through a rich mix of virtual items.

Early western free-to-play games are already marching in this direction, he added, and will soon spark a quality arms race that mimics today’s war for sales on console and PC.

“Asynchronous ‘social’ free-to-play games are essentially single-player games at heart,” Cousins said, citing Farmville and Temple Run as good examples.

But narrative is emerging too, he claimed, with games like Castleville featuring less rudimentary scripts and characters.

“I think we’re a bit spoilt as triple-A developers to suggest that games like CastleVille have little narrative to them.

“If we look at the beginnings of the console industry, game narratives started out in the same way,” he said.

When free-to-play caught the industry’s attention in the middle of the last decade, many pundits in the West assumed the model was part of eastern culture and wouldn’t transfer to the Europe or the US, Cousins said.

But today, huge publicly listed companies – such as Nexon, Zynga and GREE – are pouring significant investment into the model and releasing successful games across the world.

Cousins believes that several free-to-play games already in operation today will accumulate billion dollar lifetime revenues, though did not cite which.

He said it will soon be possible that the lifetime revenue from a single free-to-play customer will be $60. Coupled with the hundreds of millions of people who play social games today, billion dollar freemium games will not be rare, he claimed. In fact, in a future arms race for the player’s attention, billion dollar budgets of both marketing and production costs will be common too.

In February, a Develop source claimed that World of Warcraft operator Blizzard is currently working on a free-to-play project.