The beta seems likely to launch fairly soon, given the game proper is due on PlayStation Network later this year. Namco Bandai will use the beta to gain standard feedback like how the game systems work and how the servers hold up with traffic, but Kono admitted "one of the core reasons" was to address fans' concerns about Infinity's free-to-play model.
I asked Kono what Infinity being free-to-play meant for the series going forward.
"Rather than the position of Ace Combat: Infinity within the IP strategy in general," Kono told me, "what's important for us is the goal for Ace Combat: Infinity. By having it free-to-play we want to have as many people actually get their hands on the game for the first time. For instance, they know about Ace Combat in general and want to try out, but they didn't want to spend the actual pricing - you know, it's not cheap! In that case, by being free-to-play, maybe it will be open to more people and maybe it will enlarge the fanbase. That was the target of Ace Combat: Infinity." Kono told me that if the fanbase enlarges, Namco can decide on maybe making a packaged game next, or possibly continuing free-to-play if it proved successful enough. However, he admitted that going down the free-to-play route was "maybe a difficult call" given some fans' apprehension of the business model, but he believes it will be worthwhile, and that it won't hinder the quality of Infinity. One thing the free-to-play model seemingly dictated was online co-op being the "main mode" rather than single-player.
"Having it made for free-to-play and having to manage the title and build it as a free-to-play title, it's essential to have an online mode where the users can come together as friends and fight together," Kono said.