EA to launch free, downloadable Battlefield game

by Paul Jay, CBCNews.ca

Video game giant Electronic Arts is taking a step way from the retail sales model for PC games and moving into ad-supported online gaming, with plans to introduce a free downloadable version of its Battlefield series.

Battlefield Heroes is expected to be available online in Western markets later this year. It follows the company's experiment with free online games in South Korea, where EA introduced a free version of its FIFA soccer game, the NY Times reports.

From the article:

Gerhard Florin, E.A.’s executive vice president for publishing in the Americas and Europe, said it has signed up more than five million Korean users and generates more than $1 million in monthly in-game sales. Players can pay not only for decorative items like shoes and jerseys but also for boosts in their players’ speed, agility and accuracy. Mr. Florin said that while most users do not buy anything, a sizable minority ends up spending $15 [US] to $20 [US] a month. With Battlefield Heroes, E.A. hopes to bring that basic system of “microtransactions” to Western players, along with increased advertising.

The new game is marketed to a more general audience than the retail versions of EA's Battlefield series. Heroes will feature simpler, cartoonish graphics and be easier to run on older PCs.

Battlefield Heroes could be just the beginning for EA's move to add so-called "casual online games" to its repertoire.

Last week Gamasutra, citing a report in Korean publication Digital Chosunilbo, said EA would open a development studio in Korea to produce "three or four" online games. Digital Chosunilbo cited an EA source saying an online version of NBA Street, along with Battlefield, was one of the projects.

It will be interesting to see how this business model takes in North America and Europe. We're also curious to see what other mainstay titles EA plans to convert into scaled-down online games. The Sims? NHL? How about a simplified version of some of recently acquired Bioware's games? Neverwinter Nights light anyone?