If you had a job as a video game reporter, you'd not be able to inhale and exhale your way through a day without sniffing the excitement powerful people in the gaming industry have for "free to play" games. These are games that are free for anyone to start playing but then require you to pay either to get ahead more quickly or to access a lot of the cooler stuff in the games.
Free-to-play is hot in PC gaming (yes, EA public relations man, I will try your free-to-play games soon!). Free-to-play is hot on iOS (have you seen the charts?).
Free-to-play already showed up on PlayStation 3 in the form of DC Universe Online and Free Realms.
Microsoft's putting out a free-to-play Xbox Live Arcade game called Happy Wars later this year. This is a cartoonish, multiplayer competitive brawler whose previously most-notable fact was that, when one side wins, the other side's characters get tied up on stakes and can have stuff thrown at them.
And Ubisoft? Those masters of experimentation are teaming up with the cable channel Starz to give us a free-to-play game based on the show Spartacus. It's called Spartacus: Legends and will be out in January. Note the bit in the trailer about all the cool weapons in the game. Safe bet is that you'll have to pay for some of them. (Not-so-hilarious twist: on Xbox 360, you will have to be a paying Xbox Live Gold subscriber to play these free-to-play games.)
This bit in the Spartacus press release will thrill or chill you:
Utilizing the free-to-play model, Spartacus Legends offers gamers an opportunity to jump into an accessible fighting game. The game ensures that competitive play stays fair through a fame system; the higher-tier the equipment that is available for purchase, the more fame that is necessary to use that equipment.
To sneer at free-to-play would be to sneer at a concept that lets you try a game at no cost and that, if designed well, doesn't force you to pay to do well. But people get worried, because, when a game company isn't charging you up front for a game, then they're apt to think about how they can charge you after you start playing for anything and everything.
The execs love this free-to-play model, gamers, so prepare yourself for more.