Namco Bandai Games has recently started to dabble in the free-to-play business model with the release of Tekken Revolution. The next experiment is to give the same treatment to the upcoming, Ace Combat Infinity. But just what does the producer, Kazutoki Kono, think of the free-to-play model and how video-games can benefit from it?
We’ve recently managed to sit down and ask him just that at a demonstration for the title.
Would you mind telling us what your role is on a daily basis?
Kazutoki Kono: My name is Kazutoki Kono. I’m the producer for Ace Combat Infinity, as well as the overall brand manager for the Ace Combat series.
In terms of Ace Combat, what made you want to take the franchise into free-to-play?
Kazutoki Kono: So our ultimate goal is to have as many people as possible to try out the franchise. And specially the case that we want – first of all – for them to actually get their hands on it. And as they proceed with the game, we want them to like it and we want them to actually become fans as the process goes on.
So in order to do that we decided to make it free-to-play. Specially towards those that already knew about Ace Combat and wanted to try it out, but never had the chance to. Since it’s free this time they could go on and actually download the game to get their hands on it and see if they like it or not.
For Ace Combat as a franchise, are there any major differences between this one and the other games?
Kazutoki Kono: So the biggest change from the series since past titles is that free-to-play(the business model is completely new) and the new game mode which is the online co-op missions. That mode was actually designed so players can go in a game cycle – so that they could keep on going… matching the business model.
So those two points are the new aspects. And as for the actual core – like gameplay mechanics. It’s as usual the basic gameplay for the Ace Combat series in general.
Whilst I was playing outside, I found that it was a lot easier for someone like me – who doesn’t usually play flight simulator games. Were there any steps taken to ensure that someone like me could play it? In terms of control or perhaps make it less realistic?
Kazutoki Kono: As for controls for new cameras, we actually started doing that from the one before called Ace Combat Assault Horizon. Which we tried to make it open to newcomers. As for the controls, we invented a new control called “Standard Controls” and that part is actually included in Ace Combat Infinity. So it’s easier for newcomers to you know get their hands to get their hands on it – as you were mentioning it.
And there is also a different control(scheme), which is the “Expert Controls”, which is the original very basic Ace Combat series controls. Which is more close to the ways the actual aircraft fly. A little more closer and not like really realistic.
But we can have the newcomers actually get used to the game with the ”Standard Controls”which is easier for the newcomers to control the aircraft – and then move on to the “Expert Controls” as they get their skills honed a little more just like the Ace Combat fans have been doing as the series went on.
In terms of the free-to-play, what kind of content can players expect to have to purchase? For example, aircraft or perhaps story missions?
Kazutoki Kono: As for the details of the monetisation aspect, we actually tried to explain it at first, but it didn’t work well. Since free-to-play on console is still something that is new and it was difficult for people to just imagine how it works in general. So when we tried to explain the details of the monetisation, they were confused or it became something wrongly or negatively for instance.
So we decided to not mention things in detail at the moment. And that’s one of the reasons we decided to do the beta testing. We want people to actually get their hands on it and understand how it works first. We’ve decided to actually describe the details of the monetisation after everyone understands from playing the beta.
As for free-to-play, are there any ideas to expand the game through download content perhaps? Such as, additional missions that expand the story?
Kazutoki Kono: Rather than calling them DLC – because it’s a free-to-play model – and it’s very important for us to manage the title and building it up. Depending on the users – we are planning on enhancing the game in itself as times goes on.
How do you feel about the free-to-play model? Do you think it’s easier to expand the game from the aspect that like you said, you can download and it’s always changing and modifying? Rather than a physical copy which is much harder to work on?
Kazutoki Kono: Actually, both have their own difficulties. For instance, for the the packaging business, as a physical copy, we need to put everything in to have users satisfied. In those circumstances, it’s very difficult to do. On the other hand, for free-to-play, we cannot just release the content just for the heck of being able to update it.
For instance, the fact that we have to keep on managing is a difficult part too. But depending on users feedback, we have to adjust and release different content. And thinking about that in a long time basis, is very difficult to do. And we can’t just release something that is halfway through – even though it’s a free-to-play mode.
So in that aspect, both are difficult to do.
Finally, how does free-to-play work for the players? Do you think it makes for a better game experience? Given the development process being different?
Kazutoki Kono: We believe there are two advantages for the players. One is that for people that have not actually tried the game out before – on a packaging – or people that don’t want to actually pay for the content. Since it’s free-to-play then anyone can download. It’s free and if they don’t like it – they don’t have to buy it.
In those circumstances, it’s good for the users. Another part is that if they are like fans of the series, as long as they send feedback to us, they can feel that they are building the franchise with us. And being able to develop it together, since its free-to-play, and we can update and build it on with the users feedback.
And that sort of like specialness is within the users, so in that perspective it’s good for the users as well.
Ace Combat Infinity will be out exclusively on PlayStation 3 in 2013. There is a beta scheduled for those who want to try the title and perhaps help improve the final product.