Ubisoft thinks F2P games on PC are the way to go until the console makers churn out their next-generation machines.
It should have come as no surprise that Ubisoft eventually broke down and launched its own digital distribution platform for its PC games. The company has been at the forefront of fighting piracy on the platform for years, implementing controversial DRM efforts that have prevented its customers from playing their games, and as seen just last month, opened PCs to a security risk. Offering a Steam-like client would seemingly resolve Ubisoft's piracy issue. After all, it works for Valve and all its partners, right?
That may not be good enough. According to Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot, 93 to 95-percent of the company's PC games are pirated despite its DRM efforts. That's a staggering number, and explains why the company focuses heavily on the console sector. Still, there's money to be made on the PC platform as Zynga has shown to all the industry skeptics. PC gaming is once again back on the rise, and publishers are taking note of comrades in the East and releasing free-to-play titles or similar tiers in their current games. Ubisoft is looking to head in that direction as well.
Why? Guillemot makes an interesting point. "It's a way to get closer to your customers, to make sure you have a revenue," he told GamesIndustry International at Gamescom 2012. "On PC it's only around five to seven percent of the players who pay for F2P, but normally on PC it's only about five to seven percent who pay anyway, the rest is pirated. It's around a 93-95 percent piracy rate, so it ends up at about the same percentage. The revenue we get from the people who play is more long term, so we can continue to bring content."
F2P is the way to develop the PC market, he said. The company can even generate revenue from countries where Ubisoft couldn't previously, places where the products were played but not bought. The F2P model will also help strengthen Ubisoft's brands, make them last a lot longer than before. Even more, F2P titles are cheaper to produce and distribute -- there's no box or disc to manufacture and ship across the globe.
Still, games must be tailored to fit the audience's needs. "We also take content which we've developed in the past, graphics etc, and we can make cheaper games and improve them over time," he said. "What's very important is that we change the content and make it a better fit to the customer as time goes on."
Offering F2P titles will also help Ubisoft float through the migration from the current console generation to the next, its core business. "We must be careful because the consoles are coming," he warned. "People are saying that the traditional market is declining and that F2P is everything - I'm not saying that. We're waiting for the new consoles - I think that the new consoles will give a huge boost to the industry, just like they do every time that they come. This time, they took too long so the market is waiting."
The consoles are coming! The consoles are coming! Sounds like a monster movie. Should PC gamers be scared? Probably not.