In the "next few years" there will exist a free-to-play equivalent of gigantosaurus single-player RPG Skyrim, reckons Ngmoco.
"I believe that single-player will be the next to be cracked in terms of freemium monetisation," said Ben Cousins, manager of Ngmoco Stockholm, during the Free-2-Play Summit in London today, reported by GamesIndustry International.
"And I'm talking about traditional, story-based, scripted, linear and non-linear single-player that we see on consoles.
"I am totally 100 per cent confident - I will bet large amounts of money - that we will have, in the next few years, a free-to-play equivalent of Skyrim. A game like Skyrim, where you accrue skills and equipment over time, that you can play for hundreds of hours, is actually one of the easiest games to develop for a free-to-play model. That would be a big hit."
Cousins talked of three eras of free-to-play, labelled appropriately as 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0.
1.0 is the original model, where micro-transaction items cover cosmetic, time-saving and customisations areas. The average lifetime spend by a gamer here is $5, said Cousins.
2.0 is the Zynga model, where micro-transactions remove deliberate design "unpleasantness", such as waiting for a building to be erected. The average lifetime spend by a gamer here is $20, said Cousins.
3.0 is the future, where micro-transactions include gameplay features and functions that cause positive reactions like "excitement, delight and risk taking", wrote GamesIndustry International. The average lifetime spend by a gamer here will be $60, predicted Cousins - the price of a new, boxed game.
Today, the "best case scenario" for a console game is 20 million sales at $60 million with a development budget of $100 million and marketing budget of $100 million.
But the free-to-play 3.0 games of the future could multiply that $60 lifetime spend by a much, much larger audience - one potentially as large as 200 million if you consider the blossoming markets of India and Africa.
"I am totally 100 per cent confident - I will bet large amounts of money - that we will have, in the next few years, a free-to-play equivalent of Skyrim."Ben Cousins, manager, Ngmoco Stockholm
If that happens, lifetime development and marketing budgets of games can sky-rocket to $1 billion, said Cousins, and the companies involved will be worth in the region of $100 billion.
"In the future I believe free-to-play will be the way that nearly everyone plays games, it will be nearly every genre, and it will be nearly every platform," he concluded.
Console manufacturers are taking note. Sony's making big strides into free-to-play with online shooter Dust 514 on PS3. And Microsoft's investing similarly, albeit so far secretly, in Class3 - a free-to-play zombie MMO built by former ArenaNet (Guild Wars) founder Jeff Strain and studio Undead Labs.
Consider that free-to-play games are naturally piracy resistant (they're always online) and second-hand sales resistant (you don't own anything to sell on) and the allure to game makers is obvious.