When World of Tanks arrives on the Xbox 360, it'll introduce the 48 million-userstrong Xbox Live community to free-to-play gaming on an unprecedented scale. The game's "freemium" model has earned developer Wargaming.net a tidy sum, but will console gamers long accustomed to upfront pricing and balking at downloadable content take kindly to--ostensibly--being nickel and dimed?
World of Tanks has over 60 million registered users on the PC, and sees players piloting, well, tanks, battling for supremacy while earning experience points and credits. The game is free to download and play, but you can pay to customize your vehicles, or purchase consumable "convenience" items that are aimed to make the experience a bit more pleasant, without necessarily offering an advantage.
Plenty of free-to-play games have made strides into the console space--consider the PlayStation 3's Free Realms, or the Xbox 360's Happy Wars. But World of Tanks has grown accustomed to a massive scale (and massive profits). That said, there are a few hurdles to contend with.
To start, Xbox Live prevents you from playing a game online unless you pony up for an Xbox Live Gold membership, a $60-per-year expense. Twelve dollars a month likely isn't much in the grand scheme of things, but it necessarily circumvents that whole "free to play" angle. Xbox Live Silver members will be able to play for 7 days--a sort of free trial--and can determine whether or not the game is worth finally ponying up for an Xbox Live subscription.
For what it's worth, Sony has announced that the upcoming PlayStation 4 incarnations of PlanetSide 2 and DC Universe Online (both developed by Sony Online Entertainment) won't require a PlayStation Plus membership, and that other publishers will decide whether their own free-to-play games will require it.
There's another hurdle, in the form of public perception. The phrase "pay to win" gets bandied about fairly often with free-to-play games, describing situations where "optional" real-cash convenience items offer considerable advantages, and are generally required to stay competitive. Wargaming.net has been accused of this in the past, and has done its best to put that notion to bed.
The company's premium, cash shop items are designed to save time and expense--allowing you to earn experience points a bit faster, or earn more credits during a match--but don't necessarily confer any extra advantages. Even the premium tanks available for purchase, can be bested by players who are simply better, or have upgraded their own vehicles to match.
On the Xbox 360, you will be able to purchase consumables like repair kits and supplies or credits (World of Tanks' in-game currency) with Gold, which you can purchase with Microsoft Points. The company hasn't quite sorted out the conversion rate for Microsoft points to Gold yet, but a representative told me that it'd be identical to the currency's PC incarnation. If you hate juggling virtual currencies as much as I do, keep in mind that Microsoft has promised that it will replace its points system with normal currency once the Xbox One launches.
Wargaming.net has big plans for its franchise, but is focusing efforts on building a stable, balanced experience to reel Xbox Live gamers in--and hopefully convert them into paying fans. To that end, the company plans to focus exclusively on the Xbox 360, with no current plans of bringing the game to other consoles.