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 Command & Conquer  is EA's next big free-to-play AAA franchise
Command & Conquer is EA's next big free-to-play AAA franchise
August 15, 2012 | By Kris Graft

Perhaps it was only a matter of time: Electronic Arts is continuing its push for new online business models with today's announcement that the highly-anticipated real-time strategy game Command & Conquer: Generals 2 is going free-to-play.

But the news goes a bit further than that. "It's not just Generals 2 that we're talking about," said EA VP Jon van Caneghem, a veteran strategy game designer whose previous accomplishments include Heroes of Might and Magic. "We're trying to create an entire universe of Command & Conquer, and make that as an online destination. And the first game that we're highlighting under this new paradigm is Generals 2."

For EA, it's the company's most radical move in turning a core audience-focused, "triple-A" franchise into one that supports the free-to-play business model. But it's certainly not the company's first time around the block in the free-to-play market.

EA already has free-to-play games like FIFA Online, Battlefield Heroes, Battlefield Play4Free, Need for Speed World and others. And the free-to-play business model permeates EA's social and mobile businesses. It's not even Command & Conquer's first foray into free-to-play, as Tiberium Alliances is available as a browser-based online strategy MMO.

In short, EA's move today with Generals 2 just goes to show that the publisher sees big business potential in free-to-play, and is ready to shed its reliance on physical retail.

EA is treating the production values of Generals 2 as it would a triple-A retail release, Caneghem said. Generals 2 will be client-based, and is powered by DICE's Frostbite 2 game engine, the same one behind the high-end visuals of DICE's first-person shooter Battlefield 3.

Aside from Generals 2, Command & Conquer's universe includes sub-franchises like Red Alert, Tiberium and other series spin-offs, which will all become Frostbite 2-powered real-time strategy games under this new plan. "We want it to be an ongoing service, rather than one-off games to buy," Caneghem said.

Caneghem, who said he's "very much" hands on the game's design, said at the conception of the idea for a Generals sequel, the game wasn't going to use the free-to-play model. Shifts in the market, and the fact that Generals was very online-focused already, led to the change in how the game will make its money.

"Initially, the Generals product was really online-focused, so much that shifting the business model, and removing the barrier of entry of purchasing a box just made so much more sense," he said. "Letting someone play a triple-A game for free was something that I think was pretty cool.

"I think we were three-quarters of the way there anyway, in terms of how online-focused the product was, so this was just a natural evolution."

But saying that a strategy game will be going free-to-play, especially one with such a core following as the Generals franchises, might elicit visible shudders from strategy fans who realize that gameplay balance is everything. A "pay-to-win" scenario is the fear.

Caneghem wasn't allowed to talk about details of the game's business model, such as what EA will be selling through this new Command & Conquer universe. But he did try to assuage those pay-to-win fears. "All the actual gameplay loops [that Command & Conquer is known for], we are absolutely keeping those intact," said Caneghem. "You add on top of that more online persistence and... I can't get into details.

"...Obviously the whole pay-to-win issue is at the top of our list of things we have to address. I think we have some solutions that are really great, that we'll let people have fun in the way they want."

The new Command & Conquer service launches some time in 2013.

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Jacob Barlaam
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I just hope there is not some leveling system where you get passive bonuses based on level and the proceed to have lvl 1 players matched against lvl 30 players where the lvl 1 player stands no chance. If they can avoid bad design like that, maybe the game will have fun multiplayer.

Aaron Casillas
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Great point, the potential for a negative feedback loop occurring in faction based combat. The faction that wins will end up always winning if rewarded.

Having worked on the other FTP MMORTS being created, there is a tremendous amount of details that have to be accounted for…

My solution for bringing PVE content to the MMORTS genre was a hybrid arena style gameplay with AI.

A similar design could be applied for a PVP/PVE hybrid. Player advance, purchase AI units, upgrade etc..

The more you design the game towards LoL and the use of 1 vehicle, the cleaner the design,
but again you will have to move away from traditional RTS vehicle numbers…

Putting restrictions on what a player can buy when won’t be difficult to do…you can use average session times and rewards to calculate and predict when their next purchase will most likely occur. (You can also get sneaky and identify cohorts and reward players more experience if they are the type that would leave etc…but that’s getting into the dark side of the force).

I’m curious if they are going to add a high level avatar or player…

Alex Boccia
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Why on earth would you make a AAA game free to play? That's what really boggles my mind. Free to play is a broken system that profits off imbalance and in-game promotions and advertising for items. I like to buy AAA titles because they don't come with a catch, it's a game that you pay for that (usually) comes balanced and doesn't have additional fees. I don't really know how to explain it but Free To Play really just feels cheap to me, no matter how good the game looks or plays (Tribes Ascend is an example - that got old fast).

Marc Schaerer
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The reason is simple, they have to.

Their former C&C gurus, petroglyph, is soon entering the Open Beta with their F2P realtime strategy game End of Nations and its obvious after the recent releases that C&C with this kind of game around ain't gonna work out anymore.
In all fairness though, even without EoN a new C&C wouldn't work out as a hit, the franchise hasn't progressed for nearly a decade (if we exclude those Total Annihilation Kingdom 'on field' building experiments which were obviously never tested with real users and hardcore fans) nor does EA invest enough time and talent into designing a well balanced, innovative next step to create a long lasting RTS. They do not even take security as important enough from what we got to see for a decade of C&C hacks now.

Also as they mentioned, C&C is very MP focused and thats where they should focus as C&C never had a good story. If it weren't for the good movies at least in the old days when they were good, most people wouldn't know anything about the pretended lame war excuses that WW called story, so getting rid of it makes sense - yet as pure online game it is even less sellable than C&C itself is already

So its obvious that the required thing for the franchise is to attract a solid userbase around which they can build their 'premium' concept that has entered BF recently and that will only happen when its being F2P as no RTS player pays for a subscription (Hellgate London lesson at least was learnt at EA it seems)

k s
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I was interested in getting this on console but now I don't care anymore at all.

Konstantin Yavichev
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This does have potential. I love C&C. So, I am going to wait for more info before bashing this idea.