'Halo' joins retail games exploring free-to-play

  • AFP
  • Updated: Mar 27, 2015 11:57 IST

"Halo Online," being brought to Russian audiences as a free-to-play version based on the long-running Xbox franchise, joins a growing trend as Western publishers seek to engage a global audience.

"Halo Online" will be "a 'Halo' multiplayer-only PC experience tailored for Russian gamers," says Microsoft's custodian studio 343 Industries, with "no plans to bring 'Halo Online' to the Xbox One."

It's an unusual move in that the series has been Xbox exclusive since 2004's "Halo 2" but reflects the fact that inexpensive PC gaming is dominant in Russia as it is in China and South East Asia too.

By going free-to-play, "Halo Online" accomodates a population used to no- or low-cost titles. Instead of limiting the potential audience or encouraging software piracy with an upfront fee, an F2P model allows engaged players to enhance their experience via optional payments both large and small.

An additional measure in ensuring broad reach is the optimization of "Halo Online" for smooth performance on lower-end PCs, while 343 Industries will be launching a springtime closed beta in partnership with Russian publisher Innova.

And "Halo Online" could still come to other regions. "Theoretically, any expansion outside of Russia would have to go through region-specific changes to address player expectations," said 343, emphasizing commitment to cultural awareness but not ruling anything out.

Microsoft's approach appears not dissimilar to that of "Call of Duty" publisher Activision.

Launched in 2014, "Call of Duty Online" is so far exclusive to China, with domestic internet giant Tencent in control of its daily running, and the game itself pulling in various culturally adapted modes and features from recent titles in the annual blockbuster series.

Ubisoft is another Western publisher to develop free-to-play editions of famous shooter franchises.

The "Ghost Recon" series was particularly strong in the mid-2000s with two "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter" games.

By 2012, the French-headquartered studio was rolling out tactical team-based shooter "Ghost Recon Online" (or "Ghost Recon Phantoms" as it was later known), with maps concentrated in Russia and Singapore. Even so, striking a balance between free access, balanced gameplay, and reliable revenue generation via in-game perks and munitions has proven a delicate task.

And Valve's "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive," while not free, is regularly reduced in sale discounts and offers regular players a way to break even -- or turn a profit -- through the sale of accumulated in-game items.

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