Sister site Pocket Gamer editor Richard Brown discovered that Real Racing 3 is showing up in Game Center. The good news is that means it's been approved by Apple and it can't be long before the release now. While it's not out yet, this does bring up something interesting. Something I noticed in the Game Center achievements lends a little to the accuracy of rumors and theories I've been hearing that Real Racing 3 will be released as a free to play game.
Last week we took you through a three part series about the history of the App Store icon, Real Racing. Rob Rich covered the history and design of the first two games in the series. He also covered time-shifted multiplayer and other new features expected in Real Racing 3. An excellent series and well worth a read. One thing we didn't cover is how the game will be monetized as it has yet to be announced. That monetization method is likely to have huge implications on how the game is received by the fans of the series.
In the past few months, monetization of games has made a huge shift. With the exception of Minecraft Pocket, the only games to spend any time high up on the top grossing list have been free to play games. It's obvious where the money is. Real Racing 3, with a budget likely to eclipse the reported $2 million budget of Real Racing 2, may have to be free to play to have the potential of making a profit. Let's take a look at the evidence.
For one, Firemint / Firemonkeys have already tested the free to play world with mixed results. The follow-up to their first smash hit Flight Control, called Flight Control Rocket was initially released as $0.99 paid download. The game was tweaked to drive higher in-app monetization and made free to play. There was a bit of a backlash though as many of the in-app purchases were considered "pay to win" items. Something that really ruins the competitive aspect of games. Flight Control Rocket was never a huge hit and it's thought to have lost money.
A similar thing happened with another Firemint / Firemonkeys game, Spy Mouse. Initially released as a $0.99 puzzle game, it was tweaked with in-app purchase items included and made free. It is rumored that this change was much more successful for Spy Mouse in generating revenue. So we know that Firemint / Firemonkeys have their tests in free to play. They also see how much money is being made in free to play, it's logical that they would move that way. Nearly the whole industry is heading that way.
Today the Real Racing 3 Game Center achievements are discovered, thanks to the carelessness of an EA employee. To my eye they verify that Real Racing 3 will be free to play. Two achievements in particular, "Extreme Paintover - apply 100 paint jobs" and "Wrenching Experience - conduct 5,000 repairs" point in that direction as they both seem excessive for a standard paid release.
Free to play games usually have what is called an energy system. This is the pay/play wall you hit when you have played a certain amount without paying anything. The energy system can be thought of as your allotted playtime. The energy / playtime decreases as you play and rebuilds as you wait. The "Wrenching Experience" achievement listed above to me indicates that cars will need to be repaired after racing, effectively refilling your energy to race again. The reason I think that is that 5,000 repairs is a huge number unless repairing the car is a necessary condition to racing. And why would that be a necessary condition of racing if it wasn't a free to play energy system?
Free to play can be done right, even in racing games, so I'm holding out hope for Real Racing 3, should it turn out to be free to play. I have faith in Firemonkeys that they will not ruin my most favorite francise on iOS. When the game play is put first, and the monetization is optional, the game could shine as free to play. But when an overly aggressive energy system interrupts gameplay and forces plays to pay up or wait, it really saps the excitement from the game. I'm hoping for the former, obviously.
I can also hope for a single in-app purchase to just unlock everything and get rid of any play limits, energy systems, or similar. That would be the best of both worlds. But I doubt we'll see that.
For Real Racing to succeed with both free to play and core racing gamers, it needs to carefully ride that thin line between pay walls and allowing players to just play. It's a tough line to ride. And if there's even a hint of pay to win, it will in my opinion, kill the game with all but the most casual gamers. Something like that would lead to a huge backlash from the hundreds of thousands of devoted players that love the Real Racing series, like me.
We'll find out next week. EA is hosting an event in San Francisco which will be the first event to let journalists get hands on with Real Racing 3. It should be evident there what the plan is for monetization of Real Racing 3. Oh yeah, and I finally get to play Real Racing 3!