During the E3 conference this summer, we talked extensively about the increasingly social elements of Microsoft’s Xbox Live and its transformation into a budding social space reminiscent of a PC networks. Back then there was the mention of freemium games on Xbox Live with a game called Joy Ride. Well, it looks like things are becoming official for Joy Ride as Microsoft recently announced the coming launch of the freemium title, slated to appear during the 2009 holiday season.
In interviews with Gamasutra, Shane Kim, Microsoft’s Corporate VP of Strategy and Business Development talked about the possibility of PC-oriented companies developing a freemium market for Xbox Live. However, since the platform is not a completely open-system, like the PC, developers would have to determine if producing games for Live would be “worth the economic trade-off.” Joy Ride developer, Big Park, will be the first to try to test those waters.
In a nutshell, Joy Ride is a fairly simple racing game where up to eight players will be able to participate in stunt races using their Xbox Live avatars as drivers. Also, since the game is classified as “freemium,” it is, of course, free to play, but will be monetized through the selling of virtual goods, such as cars, custom parts, avatar clothing, and more game content.
As far as social mechanics goes, Big Park has also said that the game will incorporate your standard leaderboard systems as well as the voice chat that Xbox Live utilizes for most of its existing games. Furthermore, they have stated that they will continue to add new content over time such as new game modes, new race tracks and something dubbed “huge community tasks.”
Though all of this is indeed interesting, the biggest point to take home is that this is a test for both Big Park and Microsoft. Of course, it isn’t the first “test” that we have seen involving the marriage of mainstream and social concepts. The most prominent one that comes to mind is The Sims 3 on iPhone. That, too, was considered a “test” by Electronic Arts, and was intended to see if highly polished iPhone games would be worthwhile. Also, let’s not forget other mainstream developers, such as Ubisoft, delving into similar spaces and the handful of others currently dabbling in virtual goods. Nevertheless, and unlike said examples, this “Joy Ride test” is the first one to apply to a traditional, home video game console — a type of platform that has almost always been mainstream and focused around hardcore gamers.