The Future of MP Gaming: Free Map Packs

For those of you who don’t feel keen about reading news posts (we’ll ignore how you got here), you may not have noticed an announcement regarding Starhawk. All map packs in the game will be completely free.

Outside of PC-only MOBAs and the like this is the first time I’ve seen a developer, let alone one backed by a massive publisher, make this kind of decision. Of course when you look at it purely from a consumer point it makes sense; splitting up the player base is a bad idea. When games that aren’t Call of Duty release map packs every new release fractures the player base even more. Pretty soon by the 3rd or 4th release, the players who have supported the game for every map pack now have a limited number of people to play against. It becomes an issue of either having the most players to match up against, or having the most variety of maps. Call of Duty only gets away with this because of their sheer number of people that play the multi-player. Even if only half buy the initial map pack, that number still is leagues ahead of the initial player base of any other multi-player game.

But even Call of Duty has problems. With Activision trying out their Elite program from the beginning of a new game I’ve found that it’s a terrible idea. While it costs less in the long run for the consumer to pay for Elite, the fracturing of maps and players kills any positivity going for the program. I practically avoided playing the new maps as they came out because I was stuck playing them with a significantly smaller number than just going into a regular match. And since the developers wanted to make sure that the new maps could be played the most, they were in a small rotation of maps. Even after a few matches, the new maps got old quickly because I didn’t want to play the same one 10 matches in a row.

This issue is also alleviated if every map is released for free to all players. There is no fracturing of player base and the maps can go into general rotation from the get go. The only issue with this strategy is directly tied to revenue, which developers and publishers both thrive on. And here is where they both can take a page out of the free-to-play book and provide free content f0r people while also earning cash from players as well. Bioware has already implemented this tactic into Mass Effect 3’s multi-player. Players can either spend time earning the cash needed to buy the booster packs of weapons and items, or they can directly purchase them for a nominal fee. Of course this couldn’t directly translate to competative multi-player as allowing people to buy weapons would turn the game into pay-to-win. Customizing your avatar, however, could easily be revamped into a microtransaction experience. I personally would rather have the option to pay for specific customization of my character than having to pay for a new map. Not only would this method allow everyone to play together, it wouldn’t alter the core experience whatsoever. People could spend as much or as little as they pleased and still feel like they aren’t being “forced” into buying something just because everyone else is.

I am definitely excited to see where Lightbox takes this approach in Starhawk and what paid content they will provide alongside the free maps.

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  1. Lukas Heinzel

    Great Consumer Move, but i doubt that many people would have bought the starhawk map packs anyway .

  2. Badhaggis

    Good for starhawk, call of duty’s new maps were fairly poor except for black box, which is sniper heaven.

  3. Darth Nutclench

    To be fair the Warhawk map packs were so cheap most people bought them anyway. Besides, “Starhawk don’t give a shit”.

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