Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot gives GamesIndustry International his outlook on free-to-play games as a way of combating PC piracy, explaining the difficulties presented by serving an audience they perceive to be 93-95% thieves:
"We want to develop the PC market quite a lot and F2P is really the way to do it," said the French CEO. "The advantage of F2P is that we can get revenue from countries where we couldn't previously - places where our products were played but not bought. Now with F2P we gain revenue, which helps brands last longer.
"It's a way to get closer to your customers, to make sure you have a revenue. On PC it's only around five to seven per cent of the players who pay for F2P, but normally on PC it's only about five to seven per cent who pay anyway, the rest is pirated. It's around a 93-95 per cent 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."
Added to that is the fact that free to play is generally cheaper to produce and distribute, able to cannibalise existing assets and avoid the costs of getting boxes on shelves. Whilst this does make the creation of new games easier, Guillemot was keen to point out that it's not a magic recipe - games must still 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. What's very important is that we change the content and make it a better fit to the customer as time goes on."
Whilst free to play has proven useful for the publisher in breaking new markets, it's not likely to replace the company's core business. Guillemot is confident that the console market will regain its strength once the next generation of machines becomes available, something which can't come soon enough
"We must be careful because the consoles are coming. 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.
"With the innovation that we'll see from, first, the Wii U then the other consoles, the market is going to grow enormously again.
"I think it's very important for new generations to come regularly with innovations for the industry, so I think we've been waiting a bit too long. What is important is that when those new generations do come, they bring enough innovation to make the market strong again."