Sony's critically acclaimed blockbuster Uncharted 3 has become a new outlet for experimentation for PlayStation, as the title's multiplayer mode is re-released as a free game on PSN.
Uncharted 3 has been stripped down of its individual parts that will, from Wednesday, be traded digitally. All multiplayer competitive modes, as well as the original maps, will be available as a free individual download, allowing players to gradually rank up to level 15 (of 75) without paying.
Everything else will be sold individually, from weapons to character skins and taunts, as well as new level caps. Also on sale will be the single-player portion of the game, and the co-op version, as well as other DLC and bundles as comprehensive as the full Game of the Year edition.
Robert Cogburn, lead game designer at Naughty Dog, told CVG that the studio had approached Sony with the idea to move into the free-to-play space.
"Sony is always open to interesting ideas. When we approached them with this idea for making Uncharted 3 free-to-play, and showed them this business model that we want to do, and they said we should go for it."
He said most individual items in the game will cost around $0.99 in the US. Paying $5 will unlock progression up to level 25, or around $20 for the removal of the cap altogether.
Uncharted 3's move into the free-to-play segment is one of the most high-profile shifts into the emergent pricing model. Most major games that begin as free-to-play, or adopt the model, tend to start out on the PC or mobile platforms.
Cogburn believes that, far from disrupting established console business models, the freemium system could provide Sony significant player metrics on one of its most lucrative franchises.
"One of the reasons we want to go free-to-play is increase the player pool for our community," he said.
"The thing that's most interesting is what does it do to the population of the community? How many more players will we get? How many players will buy in-game items? How many will just play the free version? How many will ignore the co-op? How many will buy level upgrades?"
He said that, despite significant progress with free-to-play, the business model remains relatively unexplored, and it is unclear how much of it will resonate with core gamer demographics.
"The core gamer ARPU is something we'll definitely be keeping an eye on," Cogburn added.
"If this model were to take off like gangbusters and perform at a level that turned the eyes of Sony, then I have no doubt that would play a hand in the future of how these games are approached from the beginning.
"For now, we're just testing the waters."