Square Enix entered the browser-based game arena by releasing CORE ONLINE, a service that offers HD games playable by Internet browser.
The service is completely free and is funded by advertisements. Players watch a certain number of adverts in order to earn game time, which they can then use to play the title of their choice.
In an FAQ released by Square Enix, the company explains its advertisement scheme:
You will normally earn 20 minutes of game time for each 1 minute advertisement you view – although occasionally this may vary. Adverts will also appear during loading screens; but the load time is not artificially increased by this, and ads viewed in this way will earn you additional game time… The length of individual ads will vary; but the longer the advert, the more game time you will earn.
Square Enix stated that they believed this ad-run policy might be more successful than the more traditional micro-transaction model.
We’re very keen to experiment with different business models as we work with new platforms and technologies. We’ve watched with interest how games and other media are monetised elsewhere – TV, social networks, mobile devices – and understand the importance of cost to consumers today.
We feel that right now some are more open to small investments of time (watching ads) rather than small investments of money (micro-transactions) and we want to offer the choice.
The service has launched with Mini Ninjas and Hitman: Blood Money. Square Enix intends to add more titles as time goes on, including Lara Croft: Guardian of Light, Tomb Raider: Underworld, and Gyromancer.
More details about CORE ONLINE are available on the site’s help page.
Analysis: As I was reading up on this story, my opinion on the service changed. At first, all I could think of was, “Oh no, not another OnLive.” However, unlike the not-so-successful OnLive, CORE ONLINE doesn’t charge the consumer a dime, opting instead for their time. By using advertising revenue to fund the service, CORE ONLINE operates a lot like your TV: you turn it on and get free programming (well, after you get cable) as long as you’re willing to watch the ads in between the content. It’s proven to be a very lucrative strategy in other markets, so the question is whether or not gamers are willing to make that time-for-content trade.
The answer to that, I believe, lies firmly on the games that the service offers. While there is a market for Tomb Raider games, it’s not necessarily the most eye-catching franchise out there. Unless Square Enix regularly and continuously releases the kinds of titles that will make minutes and minutes of advertising feel worth it, many gamers may never go past first base with CORE ONLINE. That’s the real challenge for Square Enix, and it remains to be seen how committed they are to the success of the service.
However, just judging from a first look, I’m pretty impressed and Square-Enix has made me slowly—but tentatively—put my prejudices away. The question remains, however, if other gamers are willing to do the same.