Naughty Dog today announced that Uncharted 3 multiplayer is now available to play free. Gamers can play competitive multiplayer until level 15 for free, but after that must pay $5 to raise the cap to 25 or $20 to remove the level cap altogether.
In addition, none of the map packs for Uncharted 3 are included with the free version. These must be purchased separately.
A variety of items will be available for purchase, including weapons. Uncharted 3 game designer Justin Richmond explained that in order to avoid a "pay to win" situation, gun mods will be locked away by level. "You won't be able to just buy the best gun and pay to win," he said.
Richmond explained that the reason Naughty Dog sought to make Uncharted 3 free-to-play was to bring as many players into the experience as possible.
"It's not a last-ditch effort to save the game," Richmond said. "It's more about is there an easier way to get people interested in the game to really try it out? And I think free-to-play is the easiest way to do that."
Richmond described this business model switch as an experiment. "Hopefully we get it right the first time around, but if we don't, we've always been willing to work with the community and figure out what the best way to do things is."
If this initiative is successful, Richmond said Naughty Dog would consider making multiplayer for its upcoming games free-to-play, though he made clear nothing has been decided.
"If this is a huge success then obviously it's going to be far more likely that we'll see something similar in the future. If it's a total disaster, then we won't."
"Who knows [laughs]," Richmond said. "I mean, this is all up in the air in the sense of the economics of video games is changing. What's going to happen going forward with digital sales, all that kind of stuff. Basically, the bottom line is if we ever want to do this in the future we have to take this step first. I'm not going to say no and I'm not going to say yes."
"I really don't know. If this is a huge success then obviously it's going to be far more likely that we'll see something similar in the future. If it's a total disaster, then we won't," he added. "I think it is going to be successful and I think it is something that we are going to be interested in in the future. But I just don't know; we'll see what happens as it comes down the road."
Sony is no stranger to free-to-play games, as the company is currently operating PlanetSide 2 and DC Universe Online, among others. Richmond said Naughty Dog reached out to the PlanetSide development team to understand how the technology worked, but mostly forged its own path.
Gamers thinking that the idea to make Uncharted 3 multiplayer free-to-play came from Sony management are dead wrong, Richmond said.
"It came from us. It came from inside the studio," he said. "From the beginning, our big thing was it's so hard to get people into the game, period. Having to pay money for it makes it even harder. So we've always thought, 'Wouldn't it be awesome if we could get people involved…'"
The developer said the already-busy two-year production cycle for Uncharted 3 made it impossible to get the technology ready to make multiplayer free for launch. But in the year since launch, the idea really took off.
"In the year since we launched we looked at what would it take to get the game sectioned out. How can we release the single-player digitally? How can we release the multiplayer digitally? All those kinds of things. And it took a year to get there. So we released Uncharted 1 and 2 digitally first and now we've done 3, which is a far more complex offering."
Uncharted 3's co-op Arena (with Shade mode) is available as a $10 download, while the game's co-op Adventure (with Fort co-op) can be purchased for $12. A digital version of the Uncharted 3 Game of the Year Edition is also available for $40.
For more on Uncharted 3's new free-to-play multiplayer offering, check out Naughty Dog's official rundown on its website.