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Battle Royale of the F2Ps (Free-to-play) - Winner takes all!

You probably know what F2P is - the game that you can download and play for FREE.


Or is it?

“Nothing is free. Everything has to be paid for. For every profit in one thing, payment in some other thing. For every life, a death. Even your music, of which we have heard so much, that had to be paid for. Your wife was the payment for your music. Hell is now satisfied.” - Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes is considered twentieth century's greatest writers, and he wrote this in 1974 in his book The Tiger's Bones. 46 years later, nothing could be closer to the truth.

F2P refers to a business model for online games in which the publishers do not charge the gamer to play the game. Instead, they hope to bring in revenue from ads or in-game sales, such as payment for upgrades, special abilities, special items, and expansion packs, essentially in-game monetisation.


The concept of F2P gaming isn't a nascent idea. In the 2000s, MMOs (e.g. Neopets, Runescape, Maplestory) were focused on casual and children gamers. Subsequently in the 2010s, DOTA & League of Legends were F2P games that dominated the Real-Time Strategy (RTS) and Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) genres. Mobile Gaming largely centered on F2P and casual gaming, with titles such as Farmville, Candy Crush and Angry Birds raking in downloads on Apple Store and Google Play.


However, the titles I've mentioned are mostly MMOs, MOBA, and supercasual gaming titles. Where were the first-person shooters (FPS)?

 

2017 - The Year of F2P FPS - PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Fortnite Battle Royale

Figure 1: Inspired by the 2000 Japanese film Battle Royale, and the first mainstream F2P FPS

Fun fact: One of the creators of PUBG was Brendan Greene, the developer that was responsible for creating a Battle Royale mod for a popular FPS game in 2013 - ARMA 2. His in-game nickname (IGN) was "PlayerUnknown". Greene moved to Bluehole to be Creative Director, where he developed PUBG.

PUBG was initially released on early access on Steam and received postive reviews from critics, and did a full release in Dec 2017. In the meantime, Epic Games also released Fornite in July 2017, and two months later, released Fornite Battle Royale, its very own F2P FPS.

Figure 2: Epic Games made $2.4B revenue via in-game microtransactions

(Great HBS Article how Fornite became the gaming blockbuster blueprint: https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/fortnite-was-a-blockbuster-for-epic-games-what-s-the-encore)

 

Epic made $2.4B from Microtransactions - Competitors are having their heads turned


WHO WOULDN'T?!


That is impressive. $2.4B from a F2P - you can imagine the size of the user base. But what is even more impressive is how Epic has built an ecosystem around Fortnite, evolving it beyond the game.

Figure 3: Partnerships with brands across unrelated industries

So what do we have?

  1. Samsung (Telecoms)

  2. OnePlus (Telecoms)

  3. Funko Pop! (Toys)

  4. DrLupo (Esports Professional, Streamer)

  5. Marshmello (ED DJ, Music Industry)

  6. Wendy's (Food)

  7. Monopoly (Toys - Board Gaming)

  8. NFL (Sports)

This is an illustration of eight contrasting Fortnite collaborations. Games traditionally focused their monetisation on game-related elements, but Fortnite has pioneered a business model that has collaborated with DJs, fast-food chains, and even professional sports. Because of this, a lot of games have released their very own F2P FPS in attempts to replicate Fortnite's Battle Royale success. Since then,

  • Valve converted CS:GO into a F2P in 2018.

  • Activision released COD: Warzone in 2019.

  • Electronic Arts (EA) released Apex Legends in 2019.

  • Riot Games released Valorant in 2020.

 

CS:GO was made F2P late-2018, and received got serious flak

CS:GO was a paid game, and the CS community is a huge as it dates back to the days of open beta in 2001. When the publisher diminishes the monetary cost of a game, it's inevitable gamers will get angry. But the question beneath all this: Why did Valve suddenly make this F2P?


One speculation is the shift in business revenue model - in-game monetization is more lucrative than focusing on purchase revenue.


Another speculation is Valve requiring abundant data to map player behavior and preference, which could be used to develop future games, as well as build users within Valve titles.


Are these gains worth angering the fanbase in 2018? Sure - one thing fascinating about gamers is this: Gamers complain, troll, and flame a lot. But they will still continue playing in the games they're critical towards.

 

So where does this leave the current competitve landscape?

Figure 4: 13/15 Games Are F2P
  • Activision Blizzard - Tier 2 (COD & Hearthstone) & Tier 3 (Overwatch & Starcraft)

  • Electronic Arts - Tier 3 (Fifa 20)

  • Epic Games - Tier 2 (Fortnite) & Tier 3 (Rocket League)

  • PUBG Corporation - Tier 3 (PUBG)

  • Psyonix - Tier 3 (Rocket League)

  • Riot Games - Tier 1 (LoL), Tier 2 (Valorant) & Tier 3 (Teamfight Tactics, Legends of Runeterra)

  • Valve - Tier 1 (CS:GO) & Tier 2 (DOTA 2)

  • Ubisoft - Tier 2 (Rainbow Six Siege)

Out of 15 titles, only Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege are not F2P. That leaves Ubisoft as the only major publisher without a F2P title.. until two weeks ago.


Introducing Hyper Scape, Ubisoft's answer to F2P.

Figure 5: Ubisoft's latest entry into a already crowded space

This is what we know about Hyper Scape since its open beta launch two weeks ago:

  • Twitch and Ubisoft has collaborated to pit top streamers against each other - Tfue won the tournament with Aceu and Mendo for the North America bracket while Pow3rtv won the European bracket with ItsLomba and Delux.

  • Hyper Scape has Twitch Crowncast embedded in the game.

  • Ubisoft is working on a storyline for the title.

  • Gameplay focuses on agility and mobility - no fall damage, no in-game monetized upgrades at the moment.

  • It wants to differentiate itself from existing F2Ps.

The next few months will be interesting as Ubisoft is using the data and feedback received from open beta to iterate on the title. Just a couple of days ago, I've received a 15 minute online survey from Ubisoft asking for me feedback as a Hyper Scape player. Questions revolved around preference in-game design, gameplay, environment, gaming behaviour, gaming hardware, among other things.


As someone who is quite familiar with collecting primary data to inform and recommend product decisions, this is straight from the classic playbook to get the product into a shape ready for full release. Hyper Scape will be competing with COD: Warzone, Fornite, PUBG, and Apex Legends for players, streamers, and more importantly, would it be able to replicate the success Fortnite had with partnerships?


Battle Royale of the F2Ps - Winner takes ALL.

Figure 6: Battle-royale of the F2Ps - WINNER TAKES ALL

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