Social Space: Happy Wars is the dawn of free-to-play console gaming

Happy Wars 1.2 million players
Happy Wars 1.2 million players

The first free-to-play game on the Xbox 360 is quite the success, it seems. Happy Wars, created by Japanese studio Toylogic and published by Microsoft, has been downloaded more than 1.2 million times worldwide since its Oct. 12 release. Considering a successful retail game release is in the ballpark of 300,000 to 500,000 copies sold, that's not too shabby for the first free-to-play game on Xbox 360.

"We put a lot of effort into making a game that would appeal to every type of player, but it is still incredible to see so many join the battle so quickly," Happy Wars Game Director Yoichi Take said in a release. To celebrate the milestone (and the holidays), Toylogic issued a major update to the multiplayer strategy, action-RPG complete with new play modes, decorative additions and improved matchmaking.

Happy Wars Xbox 360
Happy Wars Xbox 360

So, is it safe to say that free-to-play, an approach to game distribution that social games helped push along in the U.S., is a win on consoles? Well, that might be too early to say--this could easily be the case of Happy Wars being simply a fun, sticky game. However, it's not too early to say that it's that free-to-play gaming is more than welcome on consoles --as long as it's done right. (Keep in mind that Toylogic has released the number of downloads, not players.)

Of course, access to Happy Wars requires an Xbox Live Gold subscription, so it's a free-to-play game for players paying to play on Xbox Live. But regardless, it wouldn't be surprising to see free-to-play (sort of) gaming explode on consoles in 2013. In fact, we're already seeing this happen on competing platforms with the freemium, hardcore sci-fi shooter Dust 514 headed for the PlayStation 3 next year.

That said, what kinds of games can we expect to see adopt the free-to-play, downloadable model on consoles? If Facebook and mobile are any indication, nearly any game type can take on this distribution method, if executed well. But given the nature of the console audience, it's safe to guess that most free-to-play games on these platforms will skew toward the core player (e.g. shooters, strategy games and RPGs).

This realization raises yet another question: As free-to-play, multiplayer and social-focused games become even more of a focal point on consoles, how will that shape the development of these platforms? It wouldn't be surprising to see--if not in the upcoming generation, then the following (if there even is one)--consoles with large memory banks or streaming services, no optical drives and the latest broadband Internet. Wait, doesn't your smartphone or tablet already come with all that?

What do you think of Happy Wars on Xbox 360? Is this type of gaming the future on consoles? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.

Joe Osborne is associate editor at News. Weekly in Social Space, Joe shares opinions and observations on the intersection of social gaming and traditional games. Follow him on Twitter here.