Microsoft have just announced the first freemium game to come to the Xbox 360, Happy Wars and although you’d expect it to be welcome news for Xbox gamers, it might just represent a great opportunity for the upcoming Android-based console, OUYA.
The game will be completely free to play with the option to purchase bonus items within the game for real money.
Freemium, dude! Freemium!
The concept is well established in mobile gaming, and there are a range of freemium games already available on Windows Phone but as far as I’m aware this is the first true freemium game to come to a console, certainly loaded with achievements, which Happy Wars will have as an Xbox Live game.
It’s an understandable and even laudable move from Microsoft from a certain point of view. One ongoing problem with Xbox Live Arcade games has been the inability to sustain multiplayer support over longer periods, rendering some games, like Jetpac Refuelled for instance, pretty much unplayable on a multiplayer level after the initial sales drop off.
The aim of making Happy Wars freemium is to stop that slide by making it free, encouraging a constant turnover of gamers discovering the game for the first time and encouraging a more constant audience for the multiplayer mode.
While the news has been welcomed warmly by gamers on the 360, no one will ever turn down free achievements after all, the news might not be greeted so warmly by indie developers on the platform.
There has already been some disquiet from developers about freemium games on the Windows Phone platform as it essentially undercuts their own offerings and makes it harder to compete due to the value of the Xbox Lie branding and the achievements that come with it.
On the Xbox 360, which is more of a closed platform where games cannot be given away for free already, it may represent even more of a threat if Happy Wars is merely the first of many freemium Xbox Live titles to come to the platform.
It may be that developers might not mind so much on Xbox Live because it’s a relatively closed platform that’s more difficult to achieve mind share on compared to a mobile platform which has proved a much better hunting ground for indie developers.
On the other hand while indie developers have to sell their games for a price that doesn’t include achievements, Microsoft can undercut them by giving away a game for free that comes with achievements as well.
While freemium Xbox Live titles might not be warmly welcomed by indie developers, it may offer something of an opportunity for the developers of the new open source, Android-based console, the OUYA (deceleration of interest, I’ve per-ordered one).
The OUYA aims to allow developers unprecedented freedom in developing games for the console, as long as they offer at least part of the game for free. This means that games could technically be completely free and ad-supported on the system, giving developers a little more commercial freedom on the systems compared to the Xbox.
While the people behind OUYA do not expect a lot of ad-supported games it’s hard to see how they could stop it without stricter regulation of the marketplace than it seems they are currently planning.
However, it may be no bad thing anyway and if I were one of the people behind the OUYA I’d be making quite a big play to indie developers of other consoles, highlighting the contrast between the freedom they will have on the OUYA with the potential threat posed by freemium games on the Xbox.
As an Xbox gamer I’m more than happy to see Xbox Live freemium titles come to the platform like Happy Wars but it will be interesting to see how it is received by the wider developer community and if it strengthens the hand of more open systems such as the OUYA.