Freemium Xbox Live games have gotten off to a rocky start on Windows Phone. Bug Village is sort of ho-hum and Glu’s two follow-up titles Gun Bros and Contract Killer sadly released in extremely buggy states. Hopefully the low quality and/or bugginess of those three games hasn’t completely soured our audience from the freemium business model... After all, iOS and the PC overflow with high quality free-to-play games.

The reason I’m talking up the freemium model is because Microsoft has finally started allowing free-to-play games to come to Xbox 360. Several such titles are in the works (including one extremely promising action-RPG that I can’t name just yet), but the first will be an online multiplayer-oriented XBLA title called Happy Wars from Japanese developer ToyLogic.

Happy Wars box artNo cake but lots of fighting

Happy Wars is basically the Xbox 360's answer to Fat Princess, a popular Playstation Network game. Teams of up to 15 players can compete against each other in 30-player versus matches, or team up in co-op against AI enemies. Combat involves hacking, slashing, and shooting at each other in a comical fantasy setting.

Dress up too!

A key element of the fun in Happy Wars comes from its extensive customization options. You can mix and match your character’s head, body, weapon, shield, and accessory, creating a staggering variety of appearances. Some of the game's vast assortment of items can be earned during gameplay, while others will cost Microsoft Points to purchase. ToyLogic plans to regularly release new items and customization parts as well - a key component of most successful freemium games.

Going for the Gold (members)

All that's required to download the game itself is an Xbox Live Gold subscription. That should be music to Gold members’ ears. See, Xbox Live Gold subscribers pay something like $60 a year (less if they’re savvy) for the privilege of online multiplayer and access to other perks like Netflix. Happy Wars marks the first time in a long while that the Xbox Live Gold subscription plan has actually added a new gaming-related benefit. With future freemium games likely limited to Gold members as well, the Gold subscription fee becomes more justified.

An online game with staying power

Happy Wars Character Customization

While Silver Xbox Live members won’t be able to join in on the Happy Wars fun without paying, there are an awful lot of Gold members out there. That guarantees Happy Wars a thriving online multiplayer community even though all but the most popular Xbox Live Arcade games have tiny or nonexistent online communities. Make a game free and suddenly everybody’s downloading it.

Happy Wars’ matches can hold a massive number of players, and with no financial barrier to entry other than the Gold subscription many of us already have, you can bet matches will be full at all hours of the day. If those matches are fun enough, people may even want to spend their Microsoft Points on premium items.

Happy Wars is due out on Xbox 360 this fall – we’ll have more impressions soon.