Are free games the way of the future?

BusinessWeek magazine reports that computer game development giant Electronic Arts is pioneering a new business model in the industry – free access gaming.

Doesn’t sound like a money spinner? Here’s how it works. Rather than charging people to buy a game and then leaving them to it, EA is looking at giving gamers free access to online games but then charging them multiple small amounts to access cool stuff in the game.

The prototype for the model is the launch of the FIFA Soccer game in Korea. Access to the game there was made free, but players are charged an average of $US1.60 a pop to buy new clothes or performance-enhancing accessories for their team.

So far, the new business model appears to make commercial sense – over the last two years EA has earned $US24 million from the FIFA Soccer online game, almost twice what it earned when the game was launched for conventional sale in 2002.

EA now says it now plans to adopt the same approach worldwide with a game called Battlefield Heroes, with free online access likely to be available in North America and Europe in a few months.

Although EA says it will complement rather than replace conventional game sales, the new model has a big advantage in addition to its profitability – it makes piracy pointless, a huge advantage in booming markets like China where this is a big problem.



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