Gearbox CEO denies rumors that Battleborn is going free-to-play
Battleborn had the extreme misfortune of hitting the market around the same time as Blizzard's Overwatch, and while it has its diehard supporters, the game is clearly not maintaining its value well at retail. This led to an anonymously-sourced story that Battleborn would be going free-to-play, allowing anyone to pick up the game without charge and then buy in for various upgrades.
Responding to the story, Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford took to social media to state emphatically that Battleborn would not be going free-to-play.
We have some unannounced plans to do a trial version of the game that would be free and from which retail can be purchased along with DLC.— Randy Pitchford (@DuvalMagic) September 29, 2016
Free trial plans are not firm yet - months away. Expect great continued support and awesome line up of DLC.— Randy Pitchford (@DuvalMagic) September 29, 2016
Expanding on the "free trial" mention, Pitchford told another user that the current plan (not finalized) was to offer something "more like traditional demo, but integrated so you can keep your progress if you choose to become a customer." Some have dubbed this "free-to-start," although Pitchford appears to disagree with that label as well.
Whatever the case, it seems clear that there are no immediate plans to convert Battleborn to a free-to-play model. Gearbox may change its mind about this down the line, as the "free trial" Pitchford proposes is not yet set in stone.
"But why," you might be asking, "is free-to-play so bad?"
The short answer is: it isn't. Online games have experimented with a number of different monetization models, of which free-to-play offers the lowest barrier to entry and, potentially, the greatest revenue over time. But like most things to do with money, it depends on whether a free-to-play game's paid features offer good value for money, and whether the game effectively locks you out of content if you don't pay for things. In other words, there are predatory free-to-play games, for sure -- but there are others for which it's a perfectly acceptable system.
Nevertheless, there's a stigma against free-to-play that a lot of developers wish to avoid. And a free-to-play model doesn't guarantee a game will become profitable, so it's very possible developer Gearbox and publisher 2K Games ran the numbers and simply decided the "free trial" proposal was the safer bet. We don't know, because we weren't in those meetings. The one thing that is certain in this situation is that something about Battleborn's current pricing model needs to change, if it wants to stay in the market.