Ghost Recon Online producer Sébastien Arnoult says that free-to-play games are a response to piracy - and an alternative to the restrictive DRM that's annoyed PC gamers in so many recent Ubisoft games.
"We are giving away most of the content for free because there's no barrier to entry. To the users that are traditionally playing the game by getting it through Pirate Bay, we said, 'Okay, go ahead guys. This is what you're asking for. We've listened to you - we're giving you this experience. It's easy to download, there's no DRM that will pollute your experience.'"
While Ghost Recon Online is exclusive to PC, Ubisoft's other Ghost Recon game, Future Soldier, uses a traditional payment model and will only be available on console.
"We're adapting the offer to the PC market. I don't like to compare PC and Xbox boxed products because they have a model on that platform that is clearly meant to be €60's worth of super-Hollywood content. On PC, we're adapting our model to the demand."
The perceived value of PC games is heavily affected by piracy, Arnoult says - both for players and publishers.
"When we started Ghost Recon Online we were thinking about Ghost Recon: Future Solider; having something ported in the classical way without any deep development, because we know that 95% of our consumers will pirate the game. So we said okay, we have to change our mind.
"We have to adapt, we have to embrace this instead of pushing it away. That's the main reflection behind Ghost Recon Online and the choice we've made to go in this direction."
It's a different stance to that of Stanislas Mettra, Creative Director on console-exclusive Ubisoft title I Am Alive. In an
interview with IncGamers
, he questioned the value of porting games to the PC at all.
"Perhaps it will only take twelve guys three months to port the game to PC, it's not a massive cost but it's still a cost. If only 50,000 people buy the game then it's not worth it."
Both agree that it's a question of commercial viability, but the difference in approach is alarming. While it's great to see the Ghost Recon team treating the PC as a distinct platform with its own needs, we'd like to see that attitude reflected by Ubisoft as a whole.
Ghost Recon Online closed beta is currently active in France and Germany, and is due in the UK in the next few months.