LightBox Interactive and Sony apparently agree and are trying something new and potentially very risky with Starhawk for the PlayStation 3, which hit store shelves earlier this week. It was announced via the PlayStation Blog that all upcoming map packs for Starhawk will be free to download. In a generation where it is not uncommon to pay a few bucks to turn Chun Li's dress pink, I honestly had to do a double take when I first read that headline.
Like I said, it's a risky move. And I, for one, am eager to see how it pans out. Starhawk could become the basis for a whole new way of doing post-launch business in this industry, or it could be prepping to crash and burn.
But as time went on, I started to notice something unfortunate happening to the Warhawk community: It seemed to be shrinking. Many players, it would seem, were not interested in paying for a new map. Once the second map came out, even more seemed unwilling to jump in and keep the fight going. By the time the third map dropped, the community was completely divided. You could only play in matches if you had a certain map downloaded and my friends frequently got left out of the party. Some had the first and third map, but not the second. Others had the second, but not the first or third. Some had none. It was a mixed bag, which meant it was becoming harder and harder to find consistently good matches, especially on those new maps.
That pretty much killed the game for me and, I'm guessing, quite a few others. Warhawk certainly thrived, but its numbers didn't come close to something like Call of Duty or Battlefield. And its players seemed less likely to pay for anything more than what was included on the disc. Rather than revitalizing the game every time a new map dropped, as is usually the case in the previously mentioned titles, the new content seemed to have the exact opposite effect on Warhawk.
That being the case, I see this move to free DLC maps as a brilliant decision when it comes to keeping players united and happy. Whether or not it's a good business decision remains to be seen. I hope Starhawk is extremely successful but, let's face it, even with more hype backing this new title; it's not going to be pulling in COD numbers. This time, rather than dividing the community and slowly strangling the game, maybe the release of new content will have the intended effect of bringing back old players and sparking new interest for the uninitiated. It's a risk, but it seems to be well calculated and backed by good intentions.
LightBox reps have stated that additional for-pay DLC will also be made available somewhere down the line. I'm interested in seeing what form that content will take and whether or not the good will garnered from free maps will result in solid sales for said content.
I see this as a case of the developer/publisher attempting to meet the player halfway in hopes of forming a mutually beneficial business relationship. Now we just have to wait and see if the players are willing to go along for the ride.
Infinite Ammo is a weekly column by Ryan Winslett about video games, the industry that make them and the people who play them. He can be stalked via his blog at staticechoes.com and followed on Twitter @RyanWinslett.