Many weekends have come and gone where Steam has offered me various games as part of a "free weekend" promotion. Which is not to say that the game was mine to keep of course. Rather for that weekend I could download the game at no cost, and play the game all weekend, and then come Monday it would be locked up and I'd have to make the decision if I wanted to keep it or not. Though I've never actually bothered participating in any of these trials, it's nice that they exist, sure. But I guess in some ways they just haven't really fit into my life quite right. Which is to say that never has a game that I REALLY WANTED TO PLAY RIGHT NOW THIS WEEKEND been offered to me so that I was actually compelled to spend the time and bandwidth on a Friday night getting it into my library and then tossing my weekend plans to the side so that I could find as many minutes as I could to play it until bedtime on Sunday night.
Last weekend Origin announced their new Game Time promotion, which would lead with Titanfall. So let's look at what these two things are real quick.
Game Time is basically the same as Steam's free weekend promotions. Basically. While you do indeed get to play a game for free for 48 hours, unlike Steam's weekends, Game Time can be used for any 48 hour span you desire. So I could download the game Friday night and start playing Saturday. Or Sunday. Or more importantly, I could start playing Monday if I wanted. It's not a 48 hours that Origin blocks off in a calendar, but rather 48 hours from the moment you first launch that game. It's a subtle distinction, but an important one for sure. It's a timed demo of a full game. A free rental. It... actually super brilliant and I hope it catches on in the industry because it could benefit both gamer and publisher alike.
But before I get too wrapped up in gushing about the mode of delivery, let me tell you a little something about Titanfall first...
Released in March, Titanfall is the new first person shooter by Respawn Entertainment, known best, of course for their Call of Duty series of games. Now I'm a somewhat slow convert to recent (by recent I mean anything post-Doom) first person shooters. But slowly and surely, I'm learning to love many of them. That said, I have never played a Call of Duty game, though I do have the first game on PC somewhere waiting to be installed, and I'll admit that Ghosts looks pretty cool. At any rate, my point is that Respawn alone wasn't going to make me interested in Titanfall. But I did think it looked cool. I mean graphically cool, but also there's mechs involved - even if we're not allowed to call them mechs.
Of course nobody can play every new game that comes out. Even if every game made before this year self-destructed, just the sheer amount of new releases would be tough to keep up with. But of course those older games didn't self-destruct, so now we've all got backlogs to deal with as well as try to stay up on the current new hotness. This means that while Titanfall looked cool to me, it just wasn't very high on my list of new games to buy list. Beyond "mechs are awesome," and some very nice screenshots, I couldn't find any real compelling to spend money on it. I relegated it to the pile of games I like to call "this game will probably be on sale for less than $20 before the year is over."
Now this is the part where stupid/genius EA come in and totally disrupt my plan. How do you argue with "here, try this game for free for two days?" You don't, that's how. So I downloaded Titanfall on Friday night. It was a pretty hefty download, so I just let it go while I was doing other things, not even paying attention. And really I had no idea when I was even gonna give it a try. I just figured it was there when the urge struck.
Cut to Saturday afternoon. My wife and I had had a pretty successful morning at yard sales, came back home for a late lunch, and were just sort of doing nothing in the most relaxing way. That's when it dawned on me, "I've got Titanfall all installed and ready to launch." So I figured why not waste an hour to see if this game is even worth keeping on the "till it drops to under $20" list. Now it's probably best to keep this part short because there's a really good chance that I'll be writing about Titanfall itself in nearish future as well. But the bottomline is that an hour turned into two and two turned into four and before I knew it I couldn't deal with the idea of being shut off from this game.
And guess what? It turns out that during this weekend event, EA had put Titanfall on sale for $30. So there it was - I was hooked and being offered the game at a discount. Sure it wasn't the steep discount that I had planned to hold out for. But for the extra $10, I continue playing the game now instead of waiting for a deeper sale. I pulled the trigger. Pun intended.
So now that we've taken a look at this turn of events, I'd like to point out everything that EA did right in this situation:
Titanfall is a game completely built around multiplayer. Of course the most encouraging way to invite players to help grow the community would be to do so in a come-as-you-are manner. By offering the game for free - even for 48 hours - it's obviously exposing new players to its world. This is a no-brainer. And it's also offering current players with new opponents. And it's a totally symbiotic relationship here considering there is no single player campaign. So again, the more the merrier.
But my point is that instead of a demo, everyone had access to the real deal. By having a full game to run wild with without any sort of limitations, we were given a taste of something, only to have it taken away 48 hours later. And while I really only got to play a few hours in that time, surely there were some who were even more hooked as I and eeked out as many sleepless hours with Titanfall as they could on EA's dime. Which means that they could have approached the level cap realistically. Bringing me to this point: the more progress made, the more likely you'll want to continue when your time's up.
And that brings me to yet another point: because it's the full game you will retain all progress if you then buy it!
...which as you know, I did.
Titanfall is a lovely game. All these screenshots I've taken barely do it visual justice. But really the most important thing is just how fun it really is. In the past I've never gotten into a purely multiplayer first person shooter. I've dabbled in Team Fortress 2 like any other red-blooded Steam member, but when I say "dabbled," I mean dabbled. But Titanfall just sucked me in immediately. It was so instantly gratifying, whether I was on a foot as a soldier or lurking above my enemies in my Titan. I suppose much of this instant gratification is thanks to perfect controls and a helpful tutorial. But really enough cannot be said about how well implemented the controls are. And this goes for double jumping or wall-running on foot or the perfect transition to the hulking lumbering Titans all the way until the moment you eject yourself out in a panic before an explosion.
The game is made up of two campaigns - effectively "the good guys" and "the bad guys," but really the story doesn't matter. And I mean that. It doesn't matter if you win or lose or which team you're on, the campaign will continue to progress. So ultimately any story is just there to provide a framework. But it does so in an unobtrusive manner, and does actually help make the game feel more developed than most multiplayer shooters I've stumbled into. The leveling system also helps quite a bit, as it makes the game feel akin to something like Diablo where the goal becomes not just "beating the game," but rather beating it repeatedly while constantly leveling up further.
Having said all this, I think that many of the reasons I enjoyed Titanfall so much are more subtle though. They were tiny moments that just made me feel awesome. Like the first time I saw a dragon on an alien planet swoop down and take out another player. Or the time I jumped out of a tall window and unexpectedly found myself on top of an enemy Titan, giving myself the perfect opportunity to open up his control panel and start firing unmercifully into his printed circuit boards and taking him down. Or the time that I was rushing back to the evac area and saw an enemy Titan coming at me so I climbed up teammate's Titan and fired heavy artillery at the enemy while riding on the shoulder of a giant. All of these fun little bits go a long way towards creating a wonderful gaming experience.
There's plenty more I could say about the game on its own. But more I'd like to commend this Game Time initiative. Here, a game I was kinda-sorta interested in became something I ended up unexpectedly wanting to spend more money on than I was willing to before playing it. And I only played it because of the promotion. It is very, very rare that I download a demo though. The idea of playing a single level or having some other limitation on a game just doesn't appeal to me all that much, even if it is just to "try it." I'm far more likely going to watch a Youtube video of gameplay footage than I am to download a partial game.
So good on you, Origin. You've figured out a way to make some money while actually offering something of value to gamers. Oh sure many folks may have just played Titanfall for the weekend and then felt fine with holding off for some pennies-on-the-dollar sale down the road. Others may decide that 48 hours was enough, or that the game just wasn't for them. But then you've got guys like me who found out that they could not wait for a further sale, and that TAKE MY MONEY was a real thing. Not only will I be looking forward to seeing what other games Origin may offer up via Game Time, but I can only hope that other publishers and distributors take a cue from this model in the near future.