Can Free-to-Play Succeed on Xbox Live?

Can Free-to-Play Succeed on Xbox Live?

Reportedly coming soon to an Xbox Live service near you: Free-to-play games, with in-game purchases made possible with Microsoft Points!

Free-to-play games and game consoles have had a curious relationship thus far. You can play Sony’s massively multiplayer online game Free Realms on the PlayStation 3, but it took a long time for Sony to port the game over from its original PC home. Nintendo has made it clear that free-to-play games will not appear on Nintendo systems. How will free-to-play fare on Xbox Live?

Since the launch of the Kinect late last year, Microsoft has been trying very hard to push the Xbox 360 as a multi-use system–a handy all-in-one entertainment device for families. These are the people who will download free-to-play games off Xbox Live and spend time with them. The question is, will they bother?

A lot depends on what kind of games hit Xbox Live, and how. If we’re going to end up seeing ports of what’s already popular on the PC, then free-to-play gaming for video game consoles isn’t destined to grow in leaps and bounds. People need a compelling reason to abandon their old PC-based game accounts, and they also need a good reason for leaving behind the mouse and keyboard for the more cumbersome Xbox 360 controller.

Performing transactions via Microsoft Points will also be a schelp. One of the reasons microstransactions are so successful is because people don’t mind throwing away 99 cents on an item. 99 cents seems like nothing. Microsoft Points are another story. They’re only available in set increments, so buying a magic cow is not as easy as saying, “Put it on my tab.” The points have to be available from the get-go. Free-to-play games on Xbox Live will undoubtedly have in-game options for buying more Microsoft points, but it’s too easy for a potential buyer’s impulse to cool off while performing the extra step or two that will be necessary for Xbox Live’s free-to-play microtransactions.

Finally, will Xbox Live Silver Membership holders be able to download free-to-play games? Currently, Silver members are restricted in what they can do in Xbox Live, and it would be nonsensical if they were also blocked from playing free-to-play games. What’s the point of the free-to-play model if the user is forced to dish out sixty dollars a month to access it?

In the same vein, what motivation do Xbox Live Gold members have to perform microtransactions in games they have essentially already paid for using their membership fees?

Without some original content, and without some careful thought put into funding and microtransactions, free-to-play will simply wind us as an afterthought on Xbox Live. If Microsoft conducts itself carefully, though, and if some must-play free-to-play games rear up in this age of Zynga sims and Pokemon rip-offs, maybe we’ll soon see the Xbox 360 become a platform for top-notch free-to-play games with advanced graphics and sound.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.


  1. Just wanted to note that Live is $60/year which comes to $5/month.

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