Sony and Freemium: If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em

Mark Stephens

A couple of years is a long time in gaming, especially social gaming. There was more evidence of that earlier this month as one of the console gaming giants, Sony, announced that a raft of free-to-play social games would be made available for to its console owners. This seemingly goes against what it was saying only two years ago…


Aug 2012: ‘It’s not where gaming is headed’

Two years ago in an interview with Games Industry International, the CEO for Sony Computer Entertainment America suggested that the company’s step into freemium and social gaming was a long way off:

‘[Free-to-play and social] is a business I think a lot of companies are learning is difficult to sustain for the long term…It’s an adjunct or it’s an add-on, but it’s not where gaming is headed. It’s an additive diversion. There’s a place for social and freemium, but it’s not going to replace the business models that are out there.’

At the time this attitude that free social gaming was a ‘diversion’ conflicted with other opinion about where the industry was heading; and, sure enough, there seems to have been a change of thinking in the upper echelons of Sony.

Jun 2014: ‘Get your Pain for free!’

Earlier this month, at the E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) in LA, Sony announced that it was releasing a collection of free-to-play games for the handheld Vita, as well as for the PS3 and PS4 playstations. Here is how Sony broke the news on its Playstation blog:

‘We firmly believe that the best game development ideas can come from anywhere and anyone, and as the brand that stands for gamers, we want to make it easy for gamers to step outside of their comfort zones and experience these new types of games….PlayStation is introducing a robust catalogue of Free-to-Play (F2P) games with a goal of offering more ways for gamers to discover and connect with a larger variety of titles and experiences. The PlayStation F2P initiative will give gamers the opportunity to try a variety of games that they may have not otherwise played, at no cost or financial commitment. We’ll leave it up to you, the gamer, to decide how much you want to invest in the game.’

Whether this represents a big turnaround for Sony or they are viewing it as one of the ‘adjuncts’ or ‘add ons’ that the CEO referred to two years ago remains to be seen. But it certainly seems like an acceptance that freemium is here to stay.

It’s not just one or two games we are talking about; there are eleven games included in the PlayStation F2P campaign with seven of them third party titles:

PAIN Free to Play
• Guns Up!
• Fat Princess: Piece of Cake
• FunFest

Third party games:

• Kingdom Under Fire II
• Reaper
• Onigiri
• PlanetSide 2
• My Singing Monsters
• Loadout
• War Thunder

The Future of F2P and the Console Firms

In January this year, Andrew Sheppard, president of US social game company Kabam, predicted in an interview with Develop Online that free-to-play was the next important phase in gaming; but he also said that, unlike in the previous generation, the console firms would not lead gamers into the future because they would never be able to catch up with the nimble game companies that started with web, social and mobile gaming.

His view is based upon the history of video gaming to date. Considering that history, as it has moved from the coin-op business, to retail and console, and now to free-to-play and mobile, he noted:

‘In each of those three distinct phases, you see that the companies that were at the forefront, especially at maturity, were not companies that had existed in the prior phase. So the top coin-op companies were not the top console companies.’

‘I think most of the voices that are opposed to free-to-play are very similar to the voices that were opposed to console when coin-op was at maturity.’

Certainly Sony seems to have softened its opposition and started to adopt the stance ‘if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em’. Will the other big console makers follow suit?