Will ‘Project Spark’ actually be free?

I’ve been interested in Project Spark for quite some time now. After everything I’ve read, watched and heard about the game, it sounds a lot like Microsoft’s answer to Sony’s LittleBigPlanet. Having only ever owned an Xbox 360, LittleBigPlanet was a game that I always wanted to play (that and The Last of Us), so it’s safe to say that I cannot wait for Project Spark. One of the most interesting things about the game is the price tag … being that it’s free. Now I’m all for free games, especially when they’re offering a fantastic game with tonnes of detail, but I’m slightly concerned with Spark as a free game. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something seems a little off.

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Perhaps it’s because I can sometimes be a cynical person, I often won’t believe it until I’ve seen it. Last year on the 360 Microsoft offered a couple of free games, including Spartacus Legends and Ascend, which weren’t terrible. I mean, they weren’t brilliant, but they were enjoyable for a few days. This was because their content was limited and, Spartacus especially, rather samey. They did little wrong, but that was because there was little there. It was what I expected from a free game. Of course, you could make them a little better by upgrading your character or customizing their look, but much of this required in-game credits. Guess where you got these credits from – spending money. This is what I’m most worried about when it comes to Project Spark. I can’t see how they can release such an ambitious game and keep it free. Well, I can see how they could, but that has never really been Microsoft’s MO.

The main thing that I’m concerned about is the idea of in-game purchases. I can see Microsoft giving us a taster of the game, kind of like an extravagant demo, and then to unlock the rest we’ll have to part with our hard earned cash. Microsoft have already stated that you’ll be able to buy in-game tokens to play. What these tokens buy isn’t yet clear. I’ve been searching through a few of the PC beta tester forums and this is the best explanation I could find:

“Had a look at the pricing, I think you earn the silver coins from building and you can buy the gold bars. For example there is a festival village pack for 500 gold bars, £3.50, you get 40 items from tents, to fireworks, to sound effects. There is items that you can only unlock via the silver coins/levelling up.”

As far as I can make out, you’re able to build the game world for free, but it sounds like, should you want to add in some more extravagant objects, you’ll have to pay. Obviously, this could rack up quite quickly, buy fifteen different packs and you’ve already paid the price of the average Xbox One game. So I guess the biggest question is, how much will not buying these packs (or only buying a few) take away from the game experience? I’m a man of few principles, but for some strange reason I’d much rather buy a game and have the whole thing available for my playing pleasure, rather than have to make small transactions to unlock bits and pieces at a time. Yet, this seems to be the way that games are going these days, especially in the mobile gaming industry. It might not even cost that much money, it’s just the principle of calling something ‘free’ when all you’re really getting is a taster.

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Maybe I’m overreacting, we won’t really know until it comes out. Something that I do admire, however, is the fact that you don’t need an Xbox Live Gold account to get the game and that anything you create is transferable across all consoles. So, you could use the PC to create a game that’s playable on your Xbox One. I think that’s an incredible idea. Plus, being able to use tablet devices as well as the Kinect to help design the levels and add audio to in-game characters makes Spark sound like one incredibly detailed game. I’ve been selected for the beta on the Xbox One in February, so I’ll get a good idea of what the game’s going to be like and how much it will cost overall. The token system seems to be open from the offset, so I’ll be able to answer my own questions come February. But, if there are any PC beta’ers out there who want to expand on the earlier quote, fire away! Here’s hoping that the game is truly free to play and that the purchases are just added extras rather than integral to the game. Either that, or the game is so fantastic that the micro-transactions are more than worth it. Historically, however, I find that’s never really the case.

Every Monday one of our writers (Kailios) creates an in-house meme for your viewing pleasure. This week’s was on micro-transactions, I thought it was funny and quite fitting for this article, so have a butchers below. If you like it and would fancy seeing more, we shove them on our Facebook and Twitter every Monday!

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