Should IL-2 offer up a free to play option?

Today I thought I should write up something about what a free to play option might look like for the IL-2 series and if its a good thing. Other sims have done it so why not IL-2?

What does free to play mean?

The free to play model has been used around the gaming industry quite a lot recently and in different ways. Generally, free to play offers the ability for players to get into a game without paying any money. They are free to jump in and experience the game but certain aspects are locked down in various different ways.

Some games like War Thunder are free to play but offer premium content to paying members including ways to boost research speeds to gain access to higher level equipment more quickly.

Some people call all of this the pay to win model and it is a fair criticism. Locking away the best weapons behind a paywall means that free players are cannon fodder while the paying customers get to experience the best stuff. That may be an issue for War Thunder at times (and less than some other games to be sure) but maybe War Thunder isn’t the best example. Fortunately there are two other great examples!

DCS and Rise of Flight

If you’re familiar with DCS and Rise of Flight then you know that both of these sims offer a free to play option too.

DCS World, the core module around which everything else is built, is available freely for download. It offers the Caucasus map, all of the necessary ground vehicles for that theater, and two flyable aircraft in the form of the Sukhoi Su-25T ground attack aircraft and the trainer version of the Mustang, the TF-51D fighter.

The rest of DCS modules vary in price and content but the base product opens the door to the rest of the experience and aircraft content. The modern sim really focuses detail levels down into specific aircraft as well so purchasers are free to buy what they are interested in and can avoid what they aren’t. The “best” aircraft for the job are different for pilots with different skills and interest levels so it isn’t pay to win by any stretch of the imagination.

Rise of Flight is fairly similar. Downloading the free to play base product offers up the Western Front map, all of the campaign, multiplayer, and quick mission single player options that paying customers have but there are only three aircraft available to fly: Albatros D.Va, Nieuport 17.C1 RUS, and SPAD 13.C1. The Channel Map and 40-some-odd aircraft are available for purchase. The two free aircraft are very good and near the top of the pack so buying the other types adds variety and specific capabilities rather than paying to get the winning aircraft.

The SPAD XIII is one of three free to play aircraft in Rise of Flight.

What would a free to play IL-2 look like?

In my mind this could work in a similar way to the other products that I’ve talked about. A hypothetical free to play setup would make the core game and systems free with access to features like the quick mission builder and multiplayer free. The limit would be of course in the aircraft which are the bread and butter of a flight sim pilots world.

A basic unmodified Bf109F-4 would be an ideal candidate for a free to play aircraft.

I’d suggest that the Bf109F-4 and LaGG-3 Series 29 be made the two types that are available for free. This would provide reasonably capable aircraft that fit Moscow, Stalingrad and Kuban multiplayer scenarios reasonably well. Players wouldn’t be left out except in variety and additional performance options with these two types.

I feel like certain other limits could be placed locking out any of the modifications on these two aircraft and limiting them to the default summer and winter skins.

The psychology and theory behind this format

The idea here is fairly simple. Convincing players to jump into a flight simulator without prior experience can be difficult especially when the cost is relatively high. Taking away the pricing concern and giving players the ability to try before they buy can help be convincing – especially when we know the product is good! (And it is)

Providing just enough content to be competitive in a multiplayer or single player setup would ideally be the catalyst for extra sales as players begin to become accustomed to the experience and then start to want more. Gunpods on that F-4? Want to fly attack missions in an IL-2? How about that twin engine bomber you always wanted to try? These are the kinds of things that can help convince people to try and then buy.

Rise of Flight was smart in giving away two fairly good aircraft that could be competitive in multiplayer. They were just enough to convince me to buy some more planes during one of the many sales for the series. They were ideal in giving me a taste but making me want more yet they were satisfying enough to exist on their own.

The risk of course is in giving away too much for free or in lots of players not being interested in buying anything else. In part I think that risk is mitigated because, in my mind at least, most players who have bought into the series don’t just want the two planes and a limited number of flying options. They want a lot more.

DCS gives you the Caucasus map for free but if you want to visit other locations you’ll need to pay for additional modules.

Is there a case?

It’s really hard to say without understanding the financials behind the scenes on if this could be a thing that would work for the IL-2 series. Maybe it wouldn’t work. Logically, I think it would only add players to the series and provide additional buzz around the whole product. The switch to 64bit/DX11 helped within the community while the addition of VR to the product is helping with buzz well outside of the normal flight sim world. Would free to play have the same impact? Without a crystal ball or the ability to time travel – it would be very hard to know.

I’m glad I don’t have to weigh that decision!


EDIT: I’ve made some minor corrections to terminology – I wrote “pay to play” when I meant “pay to win” in the fourth paragraph.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Pixel Dust says:

    I can only offer my personal experience with this business model.

    I tried RoF free, and found that I could easily experience all three significant combat flying experiences with the aircraft included in the ‘free’ version. That is to say, they offered the S.P.A.D. XIII, which is a typical energy fighter, the Albatros D.Va as the maneuver fighter, and the Russian version of the Nieuport 17 as an introduction to rotary engine mechanics. That covers all of the fighter variants in the WWI era.

    I really just wanted to see two aspects on my own hardware: 1) the graphics appearance, and 2) the software performance on my PC kit. Given that my hardware is newer than the game, I was very pleased with both the level of immersion and the fluidity of play.

    The end result is that I signed up to support RoF, and I bought everything they offered as my way of showing support for an old title (not nearly as old as my first WWI simulation love, Red Baron 3D by Dynamix) and the courage that 777 Studios had to let people try-before-they-buy.

    Lots of reading and YouTube Gaming videos later, I bought into the entire BoX series lock-stock-and-barrel, sight unseen, because of my overwhelmingly favorable experience with the free version of RoF.

    When IL-2 adds the best aspects of RoF to its ensemble (e.g. the Career mode), then I will enjoy the best of both series, all in two very complete packages.

    Of course, the growth potential for the BoX line is virtually unlimited, and I am just waiting for the VR hardware to catch-up with modern flight simulation resolutions before I dip my financial toe into those vertigo-inducing waters. But I know I will invest in the VR world, just as I am certain that I will buy any module that 777/1C offer.

    All of my fiscal largess unquestionably stems from that first foray into the RoF free-to-play business model.

    So yes, I think they could create a free to play version and draw in new players just as 777 did with RoF. The engagement of virtual flying in the Eastern Front territories, along with the vast potential for multiplayer on-line activities, will showcase the BoX series’ strong-points.

    The only question for them to answer is: “How big is that potential market?” Given that a F2P version entails the commitment of company resources, I wonder if the risk-reward ratio would justify it.

    It worked for me, to the tune of several hundred dollars, and that’s all that I can say.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Thanks for weighing in on this! My experience has been similar, particularly with Rise of Flight, but it also worked on me with DCS and I’ve gone from hesitantly trying out DCS World with the free content to buying FC3 and now I’ve really taken the plunge with the Mirage 2000C. Flight sims are intimidating, even to experienced sim pilots… sometimes we need a bit of help to be sure that we’re getting into what we want.


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