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The rise of free-to-play games

05 September 2019

We recently discussed the new trend of autobattler games such as Auto Chess, Dota Underlords, and Teamfight Tactics. All are showing signs of becoming the next big genre in games to follow in the footsteps of MOBAs and battle royales. What one thing do they all have in common and indicative of a wider trend? They’re all free to play.

In the age of the internet, there’s never been greater access to a plethora of games that can be played almost instantaneously. With such immediate access, many have seen the potential for games that can be distributed for free and monetised in a variety of ingenious ways. 


Free to a good home

While you could argue the genre goes back to early PC shareware, most credit South Korea as the home of free-to-play (F2P) at the turn of the century. Across South Korea and Russia, these games gained significant prominence. They continued to spread across the world and, in the mid-2000s, games like MapleStory, RuneScape, and Neopets grabbed the attention of many cash-strapped kids and adults alike.

Games that were once paid for moved to a F2P model. Games such as Team Fortress 2 and MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic reached new heights of success. The stars of the current  F2P market include Fortnite, League of Legends, and its aforementioned autobattler spin-off Teamfight Tactics. All three currently enjoy being amongst the top five most viewed games on Twitch. Heavy-hitting  ‘AAA’ titles are making the switch too – most notably, Destiny 2. 

So why have F2P games become so widely adopted? While they will cost more upfront to produce and distribute, in the long-term, they have the potential to enjoy greater levels of revenue than if they had been a ‘traditional’ full-priced game. Their appeal lies in their ease of access and free availability. Committing to these games costs nothing but the player’s own time and most in-game purchases are merely cosmetic or completely optional. But therein lies the issue – if there are so many high-quality F2P games, what separates yours from the rest?


Watch and learn

The biggest F2P games have one thing in common – they know how to foster a community. Most of the dominant F2P games on the market were once newcomers themselves and had to build their community from the ground up. While word of mouth works wonders – you’ll struggle to find a man, woman, or child who hasn’t heard of Fortnite today – how do you convert those people to regularly playing – and paying – customers?

What can help attract more attention is a cinematic trailer. Cinematic trailers grab the imagination of the audience, weaving a story filled with intense action that plays out in a matter of minutes. It’s even more important in the mobile gaming market. Competition is fierce as you vie for the limited time of the average smartphone user.

What people crave is a community they can feel a part of. With a F2P game, you’re expected to update regularly, and people search for the in-jokes and easter eggs that reward their time investment. Look at the way Fortnite holds its audience with a changing map and sly winks to those in the know.

So if you’re looking to enter the F2P market, ask yourself what your community will be – why is it worth joining? It’s all too easy to fade into irrelevance. So how are you going to make your mark? The best way to do it is through a trailer that lets people know you’re here to stay.

At RealtimeUK, we have perfected the art of creating cinematic trailers that deliver on all fronts. We have worked with free-to-play games in the past, including Paladins and RuneScape. If you would like to discuss your trailer needs, get in touch with me today at [email protected].