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SingStar goes free-to-play... well, not really

As rumors circulated the internet last week, it looked likely that the PS3's popular karaoke series SingStar was going free-to-play. As it turns out, it's perhaps not as free-to-play as you would have guessed.
Rumors were circulating the depths of the internet last week, as it looked likely that the PlayStation 3's popular karaoke series SingStar was going free-to-play. As it turns out, it's perhaps not as free-to-play as you would have guessed. At the end of October, SingStar will launch as a free-to-download client for PlayStation 3. No longer will you need to put discs in to boot up the SingStar store -- instead, you can access the store directly, buy songs, and sing along without heading down to your local game shop. To call the set-up "free-to-play", however, is to use the term very loosely. Users will be granted one demo song of about a minute in length from a small selection of demos to get started with, and from there you are required to buy any additional songs. You could say that SingStar will be about as free-to-play as iTunes currently is. Still, whatever you describe the business model as, there's no doubt that as a next move for SingStar, it's definitely a step in the right direction. The franchise's senior producer Chris Bruce explained to Gamasutra that making the client free to download was "the logical next step" for the series. "We did the Singstar viewer originally, which was a little application where you could go and browse the songs, and this was just a logical progression from that," he noted. The SingStar client itself is receiving a small visual update as part of the move, said Bruce. "We've made a few changes to it so that people can get around the game easier and quicker, to really try to make it much more accessible for all those new people coming to the game." singstar 1.jpg"It's still totally recognizable to anyone who has been playing Singstar," he added. "It's just little changes to the ways users get around the menus. You can get into the game quicker and get singing." This new update, due at the end of the month, will also allow users to get to the community options more quickly, all them to "start browsing all the user-generated content straight away," said Bruce. "There's also some recommendation stuff, so that people can find the songs that they really love easier." The disc-swap feature, which lets players use their old SingStar discs, is another example of where the dev team has fiddled with the original, as the feature is now more prominently-placed, based on community feedback.

Free-to-play?

I questioned whether SingStar is truly going "free-to-play" -- it's especially questionable given that you only get one free snippet of a song. Even by free-to-play game standards, that's stingy. "So you're right that it's not strictly free-to-play," he admits. "Obviously you need to buy the songs, and we have a licence to pay to the licensors, but we obviously want to get as many people trying it as we possibly can. Someone who has never bought a song before will be able to download a short demo song to give it a go." Those SingStar fanatics who own the game discs will still have to put the discs in to sing along with those supplied songs -- "that's one of the restrictions that we have to work with," says Bruce -- and the prices currently in the SingStar store will remain as they are, bar promotions every once in a while. As an afterthought on the idea of injecting the free-to-play business model into the music game genre, I asked Bruce whether he thought the once-popular genre could see any sort of uprise if it were to adopt a price-free entry fee. "I hope so," he answered. "I think like any genre, everything goes through peaks and troughs. There was obviously a massive peak a few years ago with Guitar Hero, but is no longer any more." "Singstar has been here for five years now on PlayStation 3, so we're not planning on going away, and hopefully this is the next step for SingStar, and we can restart that next peak."

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