Shin Unozawa, chairman of the CESA—organizers of the Tokyo Game Show and representatives of the games industry at large in Japan—gave a speech at the show this year, where he discussed the side of the Japanese industry that is experiencing rapid growth, but is harder to track and understand: namely, downloadable games and content, and free-to-play software.
Among the games he highlighted as examples of the benefits of digital content, Unozawa pointed to impressive DLC sales of Nintendo’s Fire Emblem: Awakening on the Nintendo 3DS. You can find details of that here.
On the free-to-play side, however, Unozawa looked to Namco Bandai—of which he is the executive vice-president—and their recently released Mobile Suit Gundam: Battle Operation, a free-to-play, 6-on-6 Gundam combat game for the PlayStation 3, released in June 2012.
Here’s how Mobile Suit Gundam: Battle Operation works: the game is completely free to download and play, but limits the amount of time that you can play each day. You can play up to three games for free every two hours. Each game lasts eight minutes. Once you’ve used up your three free plays, you need to wait two hours before you can play again. All in all, if you’re persistent and don’t mind waiting, you can play up to 12 games a day, completely free of cost.
However, Unozawa revealed, a surprising 75% of Mobile Suit Gundam: Battle Operation users are actually paying to play the game and avail its various services.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Battle Operation lets you pay for a few different things. For starters, if you don’t feel like waiting for your play-time to recharge, you can pay to unlock more play-time right away. Additionally, you can also pay a one-time fee to unlock all of the Mobile Suits in the game, as well as one-time fees to unlock the entire arsenal of weapons and customization parts.
Unozawa admitted that even Namco Bandai were surprised to see how many people were willing to pay for the game. He shared that Battle Operation had brought in revenues of 700 million yen (about $9 million) by the end of August, which more than covers the game’s costs of development, also mentioning that it took Namco Bandai three years to create the game.
In 2012, towards the end of development, Namco had one of the members of their social games section come up with the final service plan for the game. In addition to its development costs, Namco also spent 120 – 150 million yen ($1.5 – $1.9 million) on promotional costs for Mobile Suit Gundam: Battle Operation.