Earlier today, I found myself sitting at the tail end of a 55,452-person queue for Quake Live, the latest entry in a long line of first-person shooters from id Software, the Mesquite, Texas-based developer best known for PC game franchises Doom and Wolfenstein. Quake Live is not, however, another PC hardware-pushing graphical powerhouse, but a free-to-play, advertising-supported browser game. Today it opened in beta to the public.
To folks keeping tabs on the rise of free-to-play games, Quake Live is just another entrant in an emerging market. No one has a concrete picture of free-to-play revenues, but online “gaming phenomena” (like casual games and digital distribution services) generated over $2 billion in 2008, estimates Parks Associates. Free-to-play massively multiplayer games seized $129 million, or 15 percent of total MMO revenues in 2008, estimates the firm.
What is special about Quake Live is it ranks among the first core game brands to be adapted into a free game (its chief rival is Electronic Arts’ Battlefield Heroes, which is still in closed beta). By comparison, the majority of free-to-play pioneers have so far gravitated towards simple, brand-name MMOs like Nexon’s Kart Rider and MapleStory.
Based on Quake Live’s gravitational pull earlier today, id Software may have just unleashed the catalyst the U.S. free-to-play game market needs for rapid adoption among game players and the games industry’s publishing titans — if, that is, the company can successfully translate players into revenues.
As free game advocate David Perry, chief creative officer at Acclaim Entertainment, points out, the U.S. free games market has yet to produce a game that will make players ditch their consoles or World of Warcraft subscriptions. But imagine, he says, if Halo 3 or Gears of War 2 were free: “You would have 100 million people playing that title.” A free game of that caliber, he predicts, would change the entire games industry.
It’s just a matter of time, Perry says.
Quake Live may be generating that first warning tremor.