EA’s announcement to shift Generals 2
to a multiplayer-focused free-to-play service called “Command and Conquer” has been met with vitriol from C&C fans. The singleplayer “community” (if you can call singleplayer gamers a community) is irritated for obvious reasons, and the multiplayer community is conjuring up images of an unfair pay-to-win online experience. The fear, which is perfectly justified, is that people who spend money on the game will have an unfair advantage against those who do not.
While that sounds terrible, let me paint another picture for you: EA could have spent too much time and budget on a singleplayer campaign, while neglecting good gameplay fundamentals - ultimately releasing a product with a story that barely rates above B-movie quality. Meanwhile the people who wanted singleplayer will spend 6-10 hours pretending they enjoyed it, and will subsequently shelve the game because singleplayer offers little, if any, replay value (they’ll “use it and lose it” so to speak). The multiplayer crowd then loses out because the core gameplay is underdeveloped.
That rosy little picture describes with exacting precision, the approach EA has used to drive the C&C franchise into the ground. It simply does not work anymore (unless of course it’s your goal
to drive an RTS franchise into the ground...). Given that we have had almost 5 years of EA blowing development budget / bandwidth on singleplayer while neglecting gameplay and multiplayer, a free-to-play multiplayer-focused game suddenly sounds like a whole bunch of yes please. Here are my arguments:
1. It will bring in a ton of new playersA serious metric tit load of new players, actually
. League of Legends has been free-to-play, and boasts arguably one of the largest online communities outside of FPS and MMO. No wait, that’s actually just as good as Modern Warfare 3
C&C needs more players, desperately. The best gameplay in the world doesn’t mean anything if you are getting matched against the same three players over and over...
2. Free to play works
Team Fortress 2, Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends, Dota 2, and Dota (yes, the original DoTA was “free” considering anyone that was really interested it already owned WC3, they didn’t need to buy anything extra to play it), are all examples of free-to-play games that earn real money while maintaining fair online environments. In fact, the amount of evidence indicating free-to-play works, far outweighs evidence that it doesn’t.
3. It’s free
You won’t have to take a $60 gamble that the game will suck. If it sucks, at least you won’t have spent any money to find that out.
4. EA will be forced to focus on gameplay
Since the game will not “ship” with a story or campaign, then EA’s only
option is to make the gameplay as fun and addicting as they can. Quite literally, a game is nothing without good gameplay, so if EA hopes to make any money off of you, they have to make damn sure the gameplay gets you hooked.
5. EA will be forced to support the game
Again, long-term loyalty to the gameplay is how they will make money from this game. You may not buy anything initially, but maybe you want to spend $10 on a few missions down the road, since you’ve gotten hooked by the gameplay and want to expand your options. Or maybe you get really invested in online play and you want custom unit skins so that your army stands out. In order to keep you around long enough to the point where you want to invest a little money into the game, EA will have to make sure they kill bugs and stay on top of balance. You as a player, will not stick around if the game is buggy or imbalanced. If you don’t stick around, then you will most definitely not buy anything. You may not buy anything anyway, but “may not” and “definitely not” are two different things.
6. Technically speaking, EA is no longer insane
Including the release of Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars in 2007, EA has released five Command and Conquer titles in as many years, each time hoping for growing sales (but really getting the exact opposite result). That is the definition of insanity, according to Albert Einstein
. The very act of changing to a free-to-play model, and prioritizing gameplay / multiplayer, means EA has essentially stopped rocking back and forth murmuring to itself.
But despite all this, could EA screw it up? Of course they could. They could be short-sighted and not realize that keeping players engaged is the only way to make long-term money off of the Command and Conquer service / platform. They could simply not deliver good gameplay even though they have full intentions to support and maintain a fair online environment. There are lots of things they could
screw up. But a bunch of hypothetical “coulds” is a lot less scary than the long history of things they do
What will matter in the end is how EA has designed the gameplay. If it’s another C&C 4 / End of Nations / World in Conflict / Wargame structureless unit orgy, then you can forget about the game being good. But if it’s what they have said over
it is going to be, then there’s a very strong possibility that it will be awesome. Let’s stay optimistic, and see what 2013 brings us.