电子娱乐展（Electronic Entertainment Expo，简称E3）即将来临，游戏世界将很快把目光对准索尼PlayStation 4和微软Xbox One的次时代游戏。今年秋季，这两款在假日期间发布的游戏主机于今年秋季上市时肯定将供不应求。但相比次时代游戏，硬核游戏同样激动人心。游戏行业的一个重要推动力是免费游戏，简称F2P。遍及移动设备、PC、家用游戏机甚至次时代游戏的免费游戏已经帮助这个行业扩大了受众。最近的一波游戏展示了免费游戏的一次演变。现在，免费游戏提供了AAA级游戏机品质的游戏体验，玩家不必花费60美元购买游戏盘。
这种商业模式已经进入西方国家，成功的例子包括：Riot Games公司的多人在线竞技游戏《英雄联盟》（League of Legends），Wargaming公司的大型多人在线二战游戏《坦克世界》（World of Tanks），Meteor Entertainment公司的射击游戏《机甲世界》（HAWKEN Mech）和Crytek公司的第一人称射击游戏《战争前线》（Warface）。这类游戏的玩家数量不断增长，而传统的大型多人在线付费游戏的日子已经屈指可数。暴雪娱乐公司（Blizzard Entertainment）就目睹旗下《魔兽世界》（World of Warcraft）的付费玩家数量从今年2月份的960万减少到3月份的810万。发布之初采取付费模式的很多游戏现在已经开始转投免费模式的怀抱，例如索尼在线娱乐公司（Sony Online Entertainment）的《DC Universe Online》，艺电（Electronic Arts）的《星球大战：旧共和国》（Star Wars: The Old Republic）和Trion Worlds公司的《时空裂痕》（Rift）。其他游戏则在发布时直接采用免费模式，例如索尼在线娱乐公司的《行星边际2》（Planetside 2）和Cryptic Studios公司的《无冬之夜》（Neverwinter）。
如今，这款游戏的活跃玩家超过3,500万，当然，全球游戏受众喜爱的电子竞技比赛也功不可没。据报道，Riot Games公司在2011年被中国科技公司腾讯以4亿美元收购。韦德布什证券公司（Wedbush Securities）分析师迈克尔•帕切特说，《英雄联盟》每年为该发行商带来2.5亿美元的全球收入。
With the Electronic Entertainment Expo just around the corner, the gaming world will soon be focusing on the next generation of gaming from Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One consoles. Both of those holiday releases are guaranteed to be in short supply this fall. But as exciting as the promise of next-gen gaming is to the hardcore, one of the key growth drivers for the game industry are free-to-play games, or F2P for short. Available across mobile devices, PCs, consoles, and even coming to next-gen, F2P has helped broaden the demographics of the industry. A recent wave of games shows an evolution of F2P, which is now offering "AAA" console-quality gaming experiences minus the $60 price points of disc-based games.
F2P is a model that was born out of necessity in China because of piracy. Somewhat unintentionally, the game publishers who tried it -- Nexon, NCsoft and Tencent -- found it was overwhelmingly successful. They realized they couldn't get expensive monthly subscriptions in China, but they could sell virtual items. The few devoted gamers could support the many. It proved out that non-traditional gamers embraced this model. Although only 10% of players actually invest money in these games, they can easily spend over $60 a year. Given that some of the most popular games attract over 35 million players, the huge audience opens up a nice revenue stream for developers while bypassing the expenses and hassles of the retail model.
This business model has migrated west with successes like Riot Games' League of Legendsmultiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game, Wargaming's World of Tanks massively multiplayer online (MMO) WWII game, Meteor Entertainment's HAWKEN Mech shooter game and Crytek'sWarface first-person shooter. While these games are growing their audiences, the days of the traditional paid MMO games could be numbered. Blizzard Entertainment (ATVI) has seen itsWorld of Warcraft game subscribers shrink from 9.6 million to 8.1 million from February to March of this year. Many games that launched as subscription-based titles like Sony Online Entertainment's (SNE) DC Universe Online, Electronic Arts' (EA) Star Wars: The Old Republicand Trion Worlds' Rift have switched to the F2P model. Others simply launched their games as F2P like Sony Online Entertainment's Planetside 2 and Cryptic Studios' Neverwinter.
Back in 2006, Riot Games founders Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck made a bet that their new hardcore MOBA experience, League of Legends, would work as a free title with optional upgrades. Five gamers join a team and battle it out in online arenas with heroes that can be purchased through micro-transactions. "This bet was based on the hunch that removing the big, up-front pay wall would result in more gamers willing and able to try the game," said Beck. "It worked pretty well. More players were able to try League of Legends. Lots of them liked it, and as a result, many players have been playing the game for years now."
Over 35 million players are active today with this game, which has also ridden the success of competitive eSports (electronic sports) with a global gaming audience. Riot was purchased in 2011 for a reported $400 million by Chinese technology company Tencent. Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said the publisher makes as much as $250 million a year with League of Legends globally.