So a lot of ink has been spilled recently (how long until kids have no idea what that means?) over declining revenues in the gaming industry. I’m not an insider so I don’t know if this is all alarmist press or a real problem, but I do see a lot of news items about layoffs and studio closings.
And I’m part of the problem. Y’know what I play every night before bed? Hill Cimb Racing. It’s an Android game, and it’s free. Their business model is getting you to buy coins. You may be familiar with Temple Run, which uses the same business model. I haven’t spent a dime on Hill Climb Racing. Why? Because the whole point of the game is earning coins to improve your car so you can do better and earn more coins to improve your car. Buying coins is deliberate reducing the ‘shelf life’ of the game for myself. Once I’ve maxed out my car I’ll lose interest.
But “free to play” seems to be where its at these days. The problem is that so few companies seem to get it right.
But free games aren’t a new thing. Back in days of yore we had shareware. You may have heard of some of the titles that started as shareware: Wolf 3D, Doom, Commander Keen… all shareware. You downloaded the game (or got it from a friend, hence the name…not everyone was online in those days) and played it for free. Generally these games were broken up into 3 episodes or segments and you’d get the first one free. If you wanted to play the rest of the game, you paid for it. By the time you finished the first part you knew if it was a game you were going to enjoy or not, and if you enjoyed it you’d be happy to pay for more.
I don’t see why more “free” game devs don’t follow this same practice. In Hill Climb Racing you spend coins both to improve your car and to unlock new locations to race in. I think the developer would’ve been better served to just sell the new locations for $1-$2 and kept the coins (remember, the point of the game) for improving your car.
Xbox Live has its mandatory Trial version of games and that can be essentially the same model as long as the trial is extensive enough, but on the PC and mobile marketplaces the system seems rare these days. Mobile devs will offer ‘free’ versions but they’re generally either full of ads or they constantly badger you to upgrade. With old-style shareware you didn’t feel badgered…during the first section of the game (which was generally several hours of quality gameplay) you weren’t constantly being prompted to purchase something or interrupted with ads; it was a pure gaming experience.
I wonder why it fell out of favor. It seemed like a win for everyone. You got to try and enjoy a game for free, the developers clearly did pretty well selling them (Id and Epic were shareware developers) and anyone who purchased the games knew they were buying something they were going to love.