Sony: We Fully Believe in Free-To-Play

The controversial business model wasn't originally part of Sony's plan, but now it's big business--and growing.

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Today during a 2015 Game Developers Conference presentation, Sony's Sarah Thompson spoke about the rise of free-to-play gaming on PlayStation 4. In short, she said Sony has seen impressive growth in this area, so much so that the model could be a key component of the company's digital business going forward.

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"We're really looking at this as a significant part of our digital business," she said about free-to-play. "I think that it's going to be a really a big chunk of our revenues in the next few years; 3-5 years. And it's already growing at amazing rates that are really quite surprising."

Thompson, whose official title is senior account executive for PlayStation's free-to-play business, went on to explain that Sony had no idea the free-to-play model would even exist just 15 years ago. Times have changed, and free-to-play has emerged as a key strategy for Sony.

"So we think that's great news. I think that it is really stabilizing the business. And I think it's future-proofing us. I think that it's really taking us into where we need to be as a company," she said. "As a company, we do fully believe in free-to-play."

Of course, Sony's investment in free-to-play doesn't mean the company will abandon traditional games anytime soon. The company has a number of marquee PlayStation games due this year alone, including Bloodborne and Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, among others.

"Every indication is that there is a tremendous amount of opportunity for growth with free-to-play on consoles" -- Laura Naviaux

Also sitting on the panel today was Laura Naviaux, who holds the title of senior vice president of sales and marketing for H1Z1 and EverQuest developer Daybreak Game Company, formerly known as Sony Online Entertainment. Naviaux said she foresees a bright future for free-to-play on consoles, and not just on PlayStation systems, but everywhere.

"It's sort of just the first layer of the onion," she said, referencing that free-to-play on consoles is really just getting started. "Every indication is that there is a tremendous amount of opportunity for growth with free-to-play on consoles."

Splitting off from Sony means Daybreak can now support multiplatform development in ways it couldn't before. The company has said it is interested in bringing games to Xbox, though no specific Daybreak games have been announced for Microsoft's console.

Free-to-play often inspires debate and controversy, but Naviaux said players of games such as DC Universe Online and PlanetSide 2 have embraced the new monetization methods Daybreak has rolled out, especially on the PS4. This may come down to Daybreak's consumer-friendly approach to microtransactions, highlighted in a November Eurogamer interview.

In that interview, PlanetSide 2 creative director Matt Higby (who has since left the company) revealed that the developer purposefully went out of its way to prioritize making the game "fair and equitable" even if that meant missing out on a revenue spike.

"In a lot of cases, with the way we have designed our business model, we are leaving money on the table," he said at the time. "We're doing it for a reason. We're doing it because the trade-off in making sure we have a fair and equitable game will lead to more people playing and enjoying it, than if we were selling items we thought might be more powerful--even if that is a good, incremental and temporary revenue boost."

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