Free Blood Money?

Free Blood Money? Square Enix & CORE®ONLINE

Over the last two years, Square Enix has quietly been working to run some of its titles in our internet browsers. With the launch of the CORE®ONLINE beta, games like ‘Hitman: Blood Money’ and ‘Mini Ninjas’ are available to play for free (with ads) through the Square Enix online portal. This is a good thing, I think…

CORE®ONLINE uses a time bank to let players access games on the service. For example, you begin ‘Blood Money’ with 20 minutes. When that’s used up, picking from a selection of advertisements will add more time to the bank. The longer the ad, the more time gets added to the bank. This works whether you’re a registered user or not, but a registered user can carry time over to different play sessions on different computers.

Let me start by stating that ‘Hitman: Blood Money’ is nearly peerless in the kind of unpredictable gameplay it offers. It has such a variety in how to complete or fail missions that both novices and experts are routinely surprised by something they’ve never seen before in the game. ‘Blood Money’ was first released in 2006, and the PC version falls somewhere between a PS2 era game and a modern 360 title. That said, it’s currently my favorite entry in an excellent series, and the more people that get to play it the better.

Unlike the 4GB installation for ‘Hitman: Bloody Money’ in Steam, accessing the game through CORE®ONLINE requires just a quick plug-in install. You can pick any mission right away. (Missions had to be unlocked in the normal release.) I jumped in with ‘Curtains Down’, which I’m lousy at, and ‘Flatline’, which is a favorite that I know well. After leaving ‘Curtains Down’ running while on the phone, my time bank was depleted. That meant that I had to watch ads. ‘Blood Money’ is not a bubble shooter or ‘Bejeweled’ clone, so missions can take 30 minutes. (The in-mission save system is still intact.) Earning time is reasonable, though, and watching a 60-second ad nets you 20 more minutes.

This creates a funny dynamic wherein failing a mission means that you’ll have to watch more ads to earn the time to retry. That begs the question: “Is it worth watching ads to play for free?”

‘Blood Money’ for the PC is very cheap to buy these days, whether on its own or in a bundle. In fact, CORE®ONLINE will sell you unlimited access for $4.99, which is comparable to Steam or Amazon. You can even buy individual missions (out of 12 total) for just $.49 a piece. So, why deal with ads?

That’s just it. Square Enix is bringing older titles to CORE®ONLINE in order to entice a different demographic. The user doesn’t need to download Gigabytes of data or spend any money, but can still play recent, quality titles. I wonder how effective HULU would be if it worked this way? Actively choosing ads and building a bank might be preferable to having to watching the same ad in every show break.

Right now, CORE®ONLINE has ‘Hitman: Blood Money’ and ‘Mini Ninjas’ (an under-appreciated but very enjoyable family-friendly 3D ninja title). On deck are ‘Tomb Raider: Underworld’, ‘Gyromancer’ and ‘Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light’.

Running these games in an internet browser is a great technical achievement, and the time bank system is robust enough, so long as you don’t exit an ad early. (You’ll lose any time credit if you do.) As Square Enix continues to grow CORE®ONLINE, maybe it will grab a new untapped audience.

We feel that right now some are more open to small investments of time (watching ads) rather than small investments of money (micro-transactions) and we want to offer the choice. -CORE®ONLINE

[via Gaming Bus]

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