Ubisoft: free-to-play, microtransactions essential to future of AAA games

Jade Raymond says there is now an "expectation" that gamers should be able to try for free and buy only what they want; about 10 AAA games per year can still be viable.

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Free-to-play business models and microtransactions are essential to the future of AAA games, Ubisoft Toronto manager Jade Raymond told The Guardian in an interview published today. She said this is a natural evolution of gamer habits and that developers like Ubisoft need to find out how to keep these ideas in mind when creating new games.

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"Absolutely. We can't help it," Raymond said. "The audience for games is becoming broader and even core gamers who are used to buying games in boxes, are spending more of their time on mobile. So whether it's long-term gamers or the new generation who started out by playing free games on the web or mobile, we have a whole bunch of people who've been trained to think differently about the way they spend money on games."

Raymond said players today expect to be able to try before they buy and spend money only on what they want to. If developers like Ubisoft can't figure out how to produce AAA game experiences with this in mind, these gamers will look for their entertainment elsewhere, she argued.

"There's an expectation to be able to try for free, and only spend money if they want to. We have to figure out how to make that type of thing work with console games as well," she said.

Raymond still does believe that blockbuster AAA titles can coexist with free-to-play and microtransaction-based games, but the market can only sustain about 10 of these big-budget games per year, she argued.

"Well, I think there's still room for really great triple A games that can, despite the budget, retain the classic model of expecting people to pay in one big chunk. There's still room for that," Raymond said. "But the big publishers have to be honest with themselves--there's only room for let's say 10 successful titles a year on those sorts of budgets. So you have to go all-in on those; you have to be sure you'll have a hit, and when you make it you have to invest everything to make sure it's amazing."

Raymond and Ubisoft Toronto are currently working on Splinter Cell: Blacklist, due out for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on August 20.

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