Upcoming PC shooter Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Online will help Ubisoft test the waters of free-to-play gaming, the publisher has told Eurogamer.
"We need to learn how it works: how to make free-to-play successful," creative director Jean-Marc Geffroy explained.
Geffroy, a veteran of the series who worked on the first Ghost Recon title for PC in 2001, said that Ubisoft must now adapt to the free-to-play market.
"Maybe even with consoles," Geffroy added. A version of Ghost Recon Online will launch for Wii U later this year.
"We don't know how the future will pan out, the business is changing. It's business design research."
Ubisoft also hopes the free-to-play shooter will expand the overall Ghost Recon brand. Ghost Recon Online will be the third game in the series to launch this year, following PC and console shooter Future Soldier and tactical 3DS spin-off Shadow Wars.
"You've got the 3DS game, the film," Geffroy explains, mentioning the 20 minute, $10m Ghost Recon movie that serves as a Future Soldier prequel. "The idea is widen to brand, to eat up more of the market."
It's an approach that Ubisoft has already deployed to good effect with its Assassin's Creed series, which has seen annual console entries supplemented by handheld spin-off games, comics and short films.
But does the launch of multiple Ghost Recon games in quick succession risk swamping the market and eventually diluting the brand? "It's possible," Ubisoft Red Storm creative director Tommy Jacob said. "They are both Ghost Recon shooter titles on PC."
Ghost Recon Online and Ghost Recon Future Soldier launch on PC within days of each other in North America. UK launch plans for Ghost Recon Online have yet to be made clear.
"The experiences are different," Jacobs explained. "Ghost Recon Online is free-to-play and has things like the exo-skeleton and the gameplay systems that Future Soldier had before it refocused itself two years ago. It's still a cover shooter and still objective-based, but there are little different nuances."
But Ubisoft isn't worried that sales of one will canabilise the other, Geffroy concluded. "If it's good, it's good," he said of Ghost Recon Online's chances. "Maybe some will people will only play one and not the other, but we'll see."