Free Hump Day posts, but today's discussion of free is going in a different direction.
I've become quite smitten with the PC gaming trend of Free to Play, or F2P release of games where companies offer a completely free entry point into their game and support the game's existence through extensive advertising and/or "microtransactions" where players are able to purchase superficial upgrades, access to new, exclusive areas in which to play, or character/play options which are just funky and weird for the sake of being funky or weird. Really, any aspect of a game from additional character slots in MMO's like Champions Online to weapon options and better ammo in F2P first-person shooters like Alliance of Valiant Arms could be made into a way for the company to make a profit on the game.
Now I mention those last two games specifically because, almost completely synchronized, when we got Free RPG Day, Steam was busy launching their big F2P wave of releases. I know F2P faces some legitimacy problems among the gaming crowds, but I feel like, with the push from Steam, they're really gaining ground. Of course, if you know anything about video games in the era of facebook, you'll have heard that Farmville is currently the number one game when it comes to active players, and it's kind of the big daddy of all F2P games (which, sadly, also leads to some of the questions of legitimacy).
So imagine a new New World of Darkness in which the new core blue book is available right on their front page as a F2P download. Every person in the world is one click away from being able to start reading and playing this nuNWOD. The current blue book is already a cheap enough entry point, but remove all "pay walls" from the basic rules, and anyone who's even a little curious can download the game and give it a shot. Think of it as A Nightmare at Hill Manor writ large and complete. From there, White Wolf can charge for additional supplemental material on a smaller basis or with large "value packs" which would equate to a whole book's worth of material.
Want to see how this would work? Well you're in luck, White Wolf already does this with their Hunter: The Vigil pdf products! Their Compacts and Conspiracies model is exactly how I'd love to see pretty much every company go about releasing digital products in the future. Essentially, each Compact and Conspiracy is going to be something that a player will really only need to pick one of to be able to fully expand their character. You can kind of think of them as class-specific expansions if you're more familiar with D&D. However, you can but the whole lot of them at a very discounted price so, as the Story Teller or GM, you can buy them all and have access to the whole thing.
This model only really works well in digital products. Companies can't afford to flood game store shelves with a hundred little mirco products counting at 10 or 15 pages each - it's completely unfeasible and vendors are going to have a ton of left over product that lingers on their shelves for years. However, it's hard to deny that digital/paperless isn't the future of the hobby. I desperately want to get a cheap tablet to start getting into the habit of running games completely digitally. It has a ton of bonuses with quicker release schedules (we've had the pdf for Dragon Age box set 2 for months - when are we getting the physical thing?), cheaper pricing, and infinitely easier storage.
Eclipse Phase which is completely free to download wherever you can find a torrent site to do so. If you love the thing, you can support future releases by buying the juicy hardcover they have to offer. Of course there is a problem with going this route. Icons, a fantastic, lite supers tabletop game, had all their supplements at a very cheap price in the so-called "app-pricing" model. Long story short, Adamant found out that they weren't actually making any more money at the cheap price even with selling lots more copies. Additionally, tons and tons of micro expansions and options may very quickly separate players within the same group with differing income levels. This last bit can be taken care of by having a solid core that offers players more than enough options, making the playing field equal, without going into the weird/more crazy options in the free product.
So what do you think?