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Are free-to-play games the future?

Debate: Do you want to see more micro-transactions?

The announcement of Battlefield Play4Free on Friday was the latest in what's becoming an increasingly significant trend in the way the video game suits are approaching business.

Whether it's a way of combating piracy and pre-owned sales, an attempt to clinch more of the Yankee dollar or - dare we say it - a better gaming experience altogether, the free-to-play (kind of) model appears to be gaining ground.

In fact, EA specifically outlined an intention to encroach significantly on conventional box sales with more free-to-play output.

The principle is simple; provide the basic game for free and if players like it they'll buy game enhancing building blocks released later and at a cost.

It allows for a much more flexible service and more choice for the gamer. With Battlefield Play4Free, for example, EA is working on the assumption that just five percent of players will make any micro-transactions at all, the rest will carry on with a completely costless FPS. As far as EA is concerned, that's just dandy.

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Fable III will be getting an episodic release alongside the full box copy, as Fable II did, again putting the power of choice in the hands of the gamer.

Molyneux's approach is to release the first level/chapter/episode of a game for free, almost like a demo but in a completely finished and polished state.

After the first hour of gaming you'll be able to decide whether or not you want to continue in exchange for coin. Didn't like the look of that first level? Abandon ship and save yourself a chunk of change.

What concerns some people, though, is that if you do want everything a game has to offer; if you want every level, weapon, skin, map and kazoo, the bulk cost of all those little micro-transactions could actually amount to more than a full box copy anyway.

There's also the issue of getting your game in bits and pieces. As gamers, when a franchise like Halo spawns a new baby, we like to buy a disk, lock ourselves in a room and play it until our console gasps for air.

Can you be bothered with the hassle of downloading a game level by level? Is it a hassle for you at all?

Do you really want the comparatively small but annoyingly constant sting of money leaving your account over and over again until, after a month or so, you've finally lapped up your last gaming morsel?

In the end, will free-to-play initiatives benefit the gamer or ultimately amount to one micro-transaction too many?

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