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Opinion: Was Free-To-Play Inevitable For The Games Industry?

Throughout history, we’re told that change is inevitable. Whether it’s changes to your work, or changes in the form of a balance patch in your favourite fighting game, change is inevitable. However some change is a lot more necessary than others. Some change is born out of a need to move from the status quo, whereas other changes are to try and improve and innovate. So in an industry filled with innovation, was Free-To-Play simply inevitable?

In the day job, I’m currently on a training programme and the latest module is on Change Management. I won’t get into the nitty gritty on what that entails, but I was in Leeds for the event, where a guest speaker told us that Free-To-Play was born from Fortnite. Now, as gamers, we’ve seen the trend for years prior to Fortnite, but it was interesting that example was picked in the example. It could have been anything else, from trends in technology, how we’ve gone from desktops to portable as our primary devices, or how big online services have pushed out competition who refuse to adapt.

Given the widespread nature of video games now-a-days, it was fairly easy to pick this example up. Fortnite has indeed done so much, tournaments, special tie-ins with celebrities like Keanu Reeves. When you consider how much attention Fortnite has had and how much mainstream media has covered it, I wasn’t surprised that Fortnite was the game raised by this guest speaker. But it got me thinking – Was Free-To-Play an inevitable part of video gaming?

As we all know, Free-To-Play has been a thing for many-a-year before Fortnite, even including games like Team Fortress 2, League of Legends, DOTA 2 and so on, with some of those having been Free-To-Play longer than others. So it’s not like this is a new thing, but now with the rise of games like Fortnite, the mainstream media are taking note of these free titles. The speaker mentioned that this was a needed change, away from physical medium, or from purchasing a game beforehand.

Gaming in the 90s was great. Most PC games had a free demo, which is now a commodity. These days, the very idea of a free demo is, to consumers, a really welcome gift. However, from a commercial side of things, video game demos may not be the best route to generating sales. The video above from Extra Credits does a good job explaining this, so seriously give it a watch if you’re interested in the missing video game demo.

So when you don’t have video game demos, there’s a lot of risk to the consumer. They have to choose a game they think they’ll like, then off they go. Let’s Play series can help alleviate some of these concerns, as they can be used to see what a game is like, often before or on the day of release of a major title. A lot of big YouTube channels will have companies give them a date they can go live with their videos, all in the purpose of marketing (and, as mentioned, this is the best replacement for demos). Except for Free-To-Play.

A game I believe that could have done with having a demo prior to release

I believe that Free-To-Play, in the current video game world, was inevitable. Video games are there to make their companies profit, so if you go Free-To-Play, you’ve gone from arguably 100,000 potential sales, to perhaps 1 million players. Now, you just need to add in a fancy store system and away you go. This is exactly why mobile games are raking in the profit at the moment; because they are getting lots of sales once someone is hooked on their game. I’d like to say I’ve not bought from these stores, but Elder Scrolls Online has done a good job in keeping me invested. In fact, I even pay for the subscription.

Free-To-Play isn’t a bad thing; indeed a lot of fantastic games I’ve only been able to experience thanks to the model. These in-game stores are here to stay and you know what, I’m okay with that. Although I do want to see demos make a comeback. They may cause a loss of profit overall, but they do generate better interest for those who want to invest. Imagine how different the launch of No Man’s Sky would have been, if they simply had a downloadable demo? But what do you think? Is Free-To-Play a blessing or a curse? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or on Facebook and Twitter.

3 responses

  1. Murray

    Bit of nostalgia for anyone – remember when gaming magazines came with demo discs for the PS1 which has 15 or so demos of different games on them?

    Free-to-play models are pretty much a mainstay of the industry now IMO, what needs to be worked on now is trying to make these models more sustainable for players.
    Which, yes, would cause a loss of profits (to some companies, that isn’t gonna be worth it) but there are some free-to-play games which have terrible economies and progression systems that the time investment does not convert properly to what a monetary investment would be.

    Here’s where I’d talk about free-to-play storefronts being in paid for games, but then I’d be writing an essay :P

    Liked by 1 person

    September 11, 2019 at 10:25 am

    • Those magazines were my life!

      I fully agree with the bad economic models. I love RAID: Shadow Legends, a downright excellent game… Except for the store. £30 for a less than 1% chance of a legendary???


      September 11, 2019 at 10:38 am

  2. Pingback: Editorial: September 2019 – Later Levels

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