Is Battlefield Heroes the model of the future?

Regular readers (and apologies to you all for my inconistent posting of late) will know that I have an Enterprise bent for which I make little to no apology. Those that know me personally will also know that I am a regular gamer. So talking about the upcoming Battlefield Heroes in the context of this blog makes a lot of sense!

I won’t rave about the gaming aspect of Battlefield Heroes (BFH), although I confess it’s something I’m excited to play. What I’m interested in is the charging model they are looking to implement. There is a lot of press and analyst commentary around emerging Software-as-a-Service models (SaaS), and while BFH doesn’t quite match the definition completely as it’s still a PC installed system, although web delivered, a lot of elements of it do.So why is this of interest? Well you my analysis after reading about this a little is simply this:

  1. BFH is implementing a micro-payments model, where you get the core software for free, but enhancements (e.g. weapons, clothing, maybe specialist skills etc.) are paid for with a small fee.
  2. It helps to combat software piracy — if the software is free, but requires connection to a central server to access and unlock key features, then there is little to no point in piracy, in fact copying and distributing the core software could well be encouraged.
  3. My take is that extended features will be ruthlessly optimised and adapted — if they don’t work, people won’t pay for them. Market forces are very powerful. I’m not sure this will neccessarily lead to less bugs, BUT there are strong incentives to fix the bugs that do occur in given features.

How do these three features relate to the Entperprise world? I happen to think that this is a real model of software that would work nicely for the Enterprise, in a very traditional market place.Microsoft Office (amongst other Microsoft products) is facing increasing competition from ultra-competitive vendors, both Lotus Symphony and Google Docs are free for use. The challenge that Microsoft have is that there are few compelling new features that encourage someone to move from a very effective word processor (Word 2003) to the latest release (Word 2007) when they have to pay for the priveledge.A micro-payments model like BFH is one that I’d be interested to see a large Enterprise Software vendor adapt and experiment with.Using the same three points as above and Word as an example:

  1. Word could implement a free version of their core product, where I pay for the “extra” features to unlock them, for example, I might need to pay $5 to unlock the Table-Of-Contents feature the first time I use it, or perhaps $10 to unlock Index creation (something I suspect is even more rarely used). Perhaps I could purchase a one off or limited time use, vs a permanent unlock.
  2. While no software model is probably piracy free, this may help combat loss of software through piracy, as features would be unlocked from some central service, or perhaps via a one-time software key.
  3. It would give a very real-time analysis of what features people really use and therefore where time and effort should be invested to enhance and improve aspect, while little used features could be priced up and perhaps weeded out of the product.

In an Enterprise perspective, I’d be interested in a central licensing server which Word connected to and reported what features were used and not so I can analyse this, pay the appropriate bulk discount for the feature and be able to direct my training team at features which are underused compared to the type of documents we produce.Even true SaaS vendors like LinkedIn could benefit from a Micro-Payments model. As one example, Linked In will show you who clicks on your profile, but to see more you have to upgrade, a hideously expensive fee for the one small feature I’m interested in seeing more of. If they had a Micro-Payment option to just unlock this aspect of their software, I’d be more inclined to give them a small amount of money, rather than simply opting NOT to upgrade which is what I do now.What do you think? While I haven’t seen any evidence to date that mainstream software vendors are thinking about this, I believe it won’t be too far away and you can say you read it here first.