Last night I watched the premier of a new show called Monty's Minute. The star of the show is Monty Sharma, one of the co-founders of Vivox and currently the managing director of the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute. Interestingly enough Vivox's first MMORPG client was CCP back in 2006. The premise is that Monty will answer questions about the video game business based on his years of business related background.
The show ran 35 minutes and despite a lot of "um" and "you knows" I got some interesting insights, especially into free-to-play games. One interesting answer was in response to a question on whether free-to-play games can thrive on consoles.
Monty: "That's a really interesting question. We've seen some of that start to happen, like XBLA and PSN. The interesting thing was the rise of these small arcade games and so the game industry really took notice of that. We saw a number of developers rushing to build for that. The systems aren't elegantly in place on those platforms yet to do free-to-play well. They're coming, they're coming quickly and I think probably the biggest test of that in the next year is going to be DUST 514.
"So here is a game that is going to sell maybe a million units which would be huge. And be free-to-play; its a hard core game that takes advantage of all the great stuff you can do on a console. It's a gorgeous game and I think that is going to sort of set the high water mark and it will be interesting to see what console developers do. I know they are all watching DUST."
Considering that CCP changed DUST 514 from buy-to-play to free-to-play, I think we can forget about the units sold. But is one million the industry expectation for how many people intend to play the game? And how many players will visit the cash shop? If the going rate of five percent holds true, that could be a lot of money. Raph Koster wrote an excellent blog post earlier this year explaining the F2P business model.
The one million number brings to mind a couple of other questions. Can the servers handle the load? If the peak concurrent user mark follows the pattern in Eve, CCP might need to handle 100,000 - 125,000 concurrent DUST 514 users. Perhaps more importantly, where will they all go? My understanding is that DUST combat is initially slated for factional warfare systems. Instead of failing because of not enough interest, could CCP face too much interest? A nice problem to have, unless players get frustrated and leave, never to come back.
I had one more thought that could impact Eve. In free-to-play games players that game makers refer to as whales make up a huge percentage of a game's revenue. But with DUST 514's connection to New Eden, how many of these types of players may wind up flying spaceships? I'm already seeing pilots in local who belong to DUST related corporations. Are we about to see a surge in subscriptions to Eve?