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Electronic Arts is to release a free online version of the popular Battlefield game to be supported by adverts and micro payments.

The PC game, Battlefield Heroes, will be available only online later this year, and will not be sold in shops.

The move marks EA's first major attempt to tap into new sources of ad-driven revenue in Western markets.

The firm has a free version of its Fifa game in South Korea, earning more than $1m a month through in-game sales.

"Online gaming has a massive audience," said EA's Gerhard Florin, in a statement.

"People want to play games in new ways, with easier access that is quick to the fun. With Battlefield Heroes, EA brings its first major franchise to North America and Europe with a new distribution model and pricing structure adapted to the evolving way that people play."

Digital distribution

The video games industry is taking its first steps away from a retail-focused sales environment and towards digital distribution.

EA hopes the model of a free game as download that is supported by adverts and micro-payments could be applied to other franchises it owns.

The new version of Battlefield is designed to have more mass market appeal than current titles in the series, which have sold about 10 million copies worldwide.

The game has a "cartoon-feel" and has been made simpler to play, with more emphasis on participation and fun than skill and strategy.

Ben Cousins, senior producer at Dice, told BBC News that no adverts would be appear in the game itself.

"They wouldn't work inside the fictional world. Instead, adverts will appear on the website and the 'front-end' of the game."

Gamers will be able to buy items which customise their appearance in the world, but will not be able to seek an advantage through buying weapons.

Mr Cousins said Battlefield Heroes was about exploring new revenue models as well as making a game more accessible.

"I've always felt there was some really good fun core gameplay which was locked away by several barriers to entry: the game is complex, it is full of skilled people, you need quite a high-end PC on which to play and you need to go to store to purchase a copy."

"We're removing all barriers to entry and we hope there is broader audience for the title. You will be able to play this game on grandma's laptop."

Mr Cousins said EA expected 95% of people who played the game never to spend any money.

"If you look at Korea and Asia this is a model that works. Given the enormous explosion in web-based gaming products, this is going to be a real source of growth in the industry and Battlefield Heroes is the first step towards doing that in West."

EA pushes ad-backed video games


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