First Person

First Person
Killzone 3 Free-To-Play’s Most Important Lesson

Dennis C. Scimeca | 1 Mar 2012 17:00
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On February 28th, Killzone 3's multiplayer mode went free-to-play on Sony Entertainment Network. I'm shocked it took a publisher this long to offer only the multiplayer mode of a console triple-A shooter as a standalone product. DICE's Battlefield 1943 was a game changer for downloadable titles as a whole, but also demonstrated the potential for multiplayer-only shooters on consoles. Blacklight Tango Down and more recently Gotham City Impostors have tried to capitalize on the promise of 1943, but the polish of a game like Killzone 3 ought to make a difference and allow Sony to replicate DICE's success.

The lesson I hope publishers learn, if standalone Killzone 3 multiplayer is successful, is that decoupling single-player shooter campaigns from multiplayer modes and selling them both separately a la carte could be a viable model. Or perhaps publishers will simply learn that if they're sitting on a shooter whose multiplayer mode is the stronger half of the package that dropping the price might not be a bad idea in order to entice more players into building a community that will give the game legs.

The first person shooter genre in particular gets frustrating because developers tend to iterate mechanically on only one or two things. Brink had the AI Squad Commander and parkour movement, Bulletstorm had the whip/kick and Skill Point mechanics, Crysis 2 had its nanosuit, The Darkness II has occult powers and Syndicate has chip breaching. Otherwise they're all pretty much cut from the same cloth outside of visual aesthetics and world design, both of which rank much lower than mechanics on many gamers' lists of what's important.

If mechanics like these are what differentiate shooter games when we get right down to it, that's an argument for questioning the antiquated notion that single-player is what draws in an audience and multiplayer is what keeps them around. Multiplayer is a much better entry point than a campaign especially in a crowded FPS market, and we can look to social games for the rationale behind that position.

The success of games in general, from a historical perspective, has always been predicated on the inherently gregarious nature of human beings. The social game genre was inevitable once the right online tools were popularized. When Facebook was born, Zynga was a twinkle in its eye. Social games are profitable because they operate on the basis of human proclivity for social connection before they rely upon mechanics, which makes rapid prototyping and iteration possible. Mechanics can always be tweaked later if the social connections take root first, and we're communally a sucker for social connections.

It seems like such an obvious step to replicate this formula in the shooter market considering first person shooters had already demonstrated the proclivity of video games specfically for creating communities long before Facebook was born. Shooter Clans on PC were some of the earliest online social networks in videogaming, preceded by the face-to-face social networks of LAN parties. And unlike social games which come under fire for weak mechanics, first person shooter mechanics are a proven pedigree.

The end result is that FPS junkies are an easy target for bringing in large groups to new games simultaneously, much in the same way a social game operates. You can still find full 12 on 12 games of Battlefield 1943 every night closing on three years since it was released.

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