The problem with the free-to-play market is that the experiences are largely worth what you put in to it. Sure, some users can drop hundreds of dollars on items and gameplay, and the developers love that, but what about all those people trying the game for a few hours and never spending a cent on the experience?
Ngmoco Sweden Executive Ben Cousins says that the massive, engrossing experiences normally reserved for $60 retail games will soon become Free-to-Play games, mentioning The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim by name. Cousins says that the free-to-play model is currently in version 2.0 and that version 3.0 will bring the "monetisation super-highway" (without correcting his grammar):
I believe that single-player will be the next to be cracked in terms of freemium monetisation. And I'm talking about traditional, story-based, scripted, linear and non-linear single-player that we see on consoles.
I am totally 100 per cent confident – I will be large amounts of money – that we weill have, in the next few years, a free-to-play equivalent of Skyrim. A game like Skyrim, where you accrue skills and equipment over time, that you can play for hundreds of hours, is actually one of the easiest games to develop for a free-to-play model. That would be a big hit.
I get what Cousins is driving at here, but there's a level of pipe-dream he's moving into. The problem with creating a free-to-play Skyrim is that 90% of the users won't pay enough money to see what made Skyrim such a zeitgeist last year.
What people don't realize is that the free-to-play market relies on 10 out of 100 users for all of their revenue. 90 of those users don't see the game as it was meant to be seen. Imagine Skyrim without the storyline, or the campaign, or the different guilds, or some of the rare weapons, or smithing, or potion crafting, or NPCs, or, god forbid, the dragons… the list goes on.
It just wouldn't work the same way it worked last year when Bethesda released Skyrim. Losing any one of those elements behind a pay wall would have destroyed the experience for any one of the millions of people playing the game.
I'll take your bet, Cousins. You won't see anything in the free-to-play market even remotely close to Skyrim with the success it had as a retail game in 2 years time.