Gaming is heading towards a free-to-play future, with leading industry lights predicting the business model will take hold within the next few years.

Speaking at Develop, ex-Sony executive Phil Harrison, and Chris Lee, co-founder of DJ Hero developer Freestyle Games, discussed gaming's free-to-play future.

"I think by and large we're moving towards a free-to-play business model where the entry point is going to be free and you're monetizing the engagement," said Harrison, formerly head of Sony's Worldwide Studios and currently acting on Gaikai's board of directors. "70-90 per cent will be playing for free, but that other per cent will make the game far more profitable than you could ever get selling it in the shop."

Harrison himself is evidently a champion of the free-to-play model - earlier this week it was revealed that he pushed for Media Molecule's PlayStation 3 hit LittleBigPlanet to launch as a free-to-play downloadable game.

There are, however, challenges to an immediate switch, one of them being the expectations surrounding console games - though Lee offered that it'll just take a courageous leap to prove the model's worth. "The console audience expects a certain amount of visual fidelity," added Lee, "the challenge is are you willing to put 5-10 million up front to create a compelling console experience and then flip it to free-to-play - I think people should and I think people will."

Phil Harrison was happy to offer one tangible example. "I think in some short period of time, if a Call of Duty game on the next PlayStation or the next Xbox starts life as free-to-play" he said, "you've got hundreds of millions worth of product development open to the world to play. Then the industry will change overnight, instantly and forever."

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Martin Robinson

Martin Robinson

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Martin is Eurogamer's features and reviews editor. He has a Gradius 2 arcade board and likes to play racing games with special boots and gloves on.

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