Although the free to play model has enjoyed quite a bit of success on the PC platform, consoles have yet to adopt such a model. Considering that gamers of all allegiances are looking for a great title to play with their buddies, free to play seems like a no-brainer on Xbox 360, PS3, and perhaps even the Wii, to some extent. But, how to make it happen?
Free to play thrives on microtransactions, and with most titles, an in-game store allows for these small purchases to be extremely easy impulse buys. On the console platforms, most in-game content is delivered via their respective marketplaces, which almost exclusively operate outside of the games themselves. In order for free to play titles to work on consoles, console manufacturers will need to allow developers to create hotlinks to this content, much like is available on bigg budget titles that allow gamers to browse specific game DLC from within the game’s menus themselves. If in-game marketplaces are allowed (specifically, avoiding the Xbox Guide or PSN Store until the point of purchase) then microtransactions could retain the ease and frustration-free nature that makes them such simple purchases. Otherwise, forget about it.
Content delivery is also a problem on consoles, as certification often times limits the availability of patches, game content, or other important updates for games. Free to play titles often update their content quite frequently, and considering that Microsoft or Sony often charge for such updates, this model becomes very difficult to implement with a margin of profitability. Unless console manufacturers allow for regularly scheduled updates at acceptable rates, free to play could never happen on consoles. It’s a sad but unfortunate truth of DLC delivery on the popular devices: to support their game, the developer actually must pay to keep players satisfied. How does that work?
While it would truly be amazing to see more free to play games make their way to consoles, the likelihood of it happening is highly dependent on the Big 3 updating their policies to keep up with the times. Much like the initial size limit that Microsoft imposed on XBLA titles, it’s time to shed outdated thinking and stay ahead of the curve. Everyone stands to profit as a result.