In recent years, videogame publishers have been experimenting with financial models outside of the traditional retail model in hopes of finding a sustainable model to meet the skyrocketing costs of AAA development. MMOs, for instance, have abandoned monthly subscriptions in favor of the free-to-play model, to varying success. Kickstarter and the crowdfunding model's success in 2012 offers yet another viable alternative to funding for independent developers hoping to push titles that would never be green lighted by publishers.
Crytek, best known for developing the technically impressive Crysis series, is embracing change in the coming years, according to CEO Cevat Yerli. In an interview with Venturebeat, Yerli explained that the developer would probably going completely free-to-play within two to five years. “We decided five or six years ago that we want to marry the quality of triple-A games with the business model of free-to-play,” Yerli said. “And out of that position, Gface and Warface were born. And at that time, we decided some other games, in some of our other studios, would head in this direction. But we kept pushing the quality bar higher on our console business, which is the main dominating business for the Western world, but we are observing, plainly — and we see this already with Warface — that the free-to-play market is on the rise. I think over the next two to three years, free-to-play is going to rival retail with quality games like Warface.”
Crytek's vision is ambitious. Though the developer's main focus has been in the PC market—it wasn't so long ago Crysis was being used as a benchmark for gaming PCs—Yerli hopes to expand its efforts to consoles: "We're looking at free-to-play as a force that drives our growth and world-domination plans," said Yerli. "So we have quite a few console titles in our pipeline that are [traditional retail games] while we investigate free-to-play on consoles. But our primary goal is to make triple-A free-to-play games for the world market and transition entirely to that."
Gface, which Warface will be launching on, is Crytek's social platform for games and the crux of its F2P transition. Perhaps one of the most impressive things about Gface is that it will be a cloud-based service, offering experiences ranging from simple 2D affairs to AAA games via browser. One of Crytek's goals is to become a service company, something of a similar vein to Valve with Steam, and allow developers to launch their F2P products on Gface. “As a company, [we will] transition from a developer to a service company, and we’re going to offer a platform, with G-Face, to any other [developer that needs it],” Yerli stated. “If we could launch our games on a platform that already exists today, and we could get the same results, then we wouldn’t build our own platform,” said Yerli. “But we’re convinced that our platform does some particularly new things that makes our games behave better. That’s why we plan to offer this service to third parties.” Essentially, Crytek's stake in Gface is to make it the Steam for F2P play.
Yerli reassures gamers that Crytek's transition into a service company doesn't mean it's moving away from game development. "This doesn’t mean our main business will be driven by our platform business,” said Yerli. “We are just going to open it up and see how it works. We are always going to be a games-first company. We will always have our own development because we are all about making games. We provide technology, but technology is not our main driver. We make technology to make great games." Indeed, if Crytek wants to make Gface succeed, it must attract developers through user base, and users through solid titles, much like Valve did with Steam. Now, here's to hoping that Crytek's development cycles won't be impacted too heavily by its new role, lest its titles become the butt of a joke similar to those about Half-Life 3.