For years, we’ve had demos and trial versions of games. When online games came around, they were either free or with subscription. Now, online games follow free with premium perks, or subscription, or both in rare cases. Valve recently made Team Fortress 2 free to play for everyone, with some premium upsides to the game that can be bought with real money, and it was newsworthy. Shortly after, Blizzard sharply changed the trial of World of Warcraft by extending the length it could be played to infinite.
With the release of things like the Playstation Network, we are able to download games and free and/or premium content for the game. The prices of this content is often reasonable, and expands on the game while making more money for the developers. This is where I get to my point.
What if, instead of games being paid for, you could simply get them for free? Yes, you can always pirate them, but when you pirate, you can miss out on multiplayer, DLC, risk having your internet shut off, prison time, and getting your entire console banned from connecting to the online services. You also miss out on updates and other content that paying customers get. Piracy is a problem and everyone who works in the gaming industry will say that it’s a major issue for their profits.
Now, like I just said, pirates get their games for free. However, they miss out on DLC, multiplayer, and a few other perks most of the time, especially on console games. This is where an advantage can be taken. Microtransactions are where free to play MMOs make all of their money from, and when done right, is incredibly profitable and enjoyed by many.
If 100% of the profits made came from premium DLC, and the games themselves were free to download, or actually very cheap to download or buy, the piracy issue would fall apart as DLC is much more difficult to pirate, and emphasis on multiplayer means that they will miss out on large amounts of the content. It would also encourage developers to regularly patch and add more content to a game. Assassin’s Creed 3 for example could have the single game, and next year, DLC could be released to further expand the game beyond the ending, meaning the game runs on a single engine that can be tweaked and patched endlessly.
It’s easy to picture this for a game like Tomb Raider. The first five Tomb Raider games for the PSX featured an engine that was significantly improved with each incarnation. If Tomb Raider 1 was released as-is in modern times, the DLC afterwards could update the engine and levels to TR2, and the TR1 levels could be updated to have new features that were impossible with the previous version of the engine.
It sounds far more reasonable than that DRM BS that’s been going around and not working. A free game with huge amounts of DLC and premium items, as well as constant bug fixes and engine updates would be very welcome. If it works for MMOs, it can work for single-player games as well. It would definitely be worth a try, but it’s a very high risk venture. Gears of War developer Epic Games for example has cited constant support for older games to have a very strong impact on their sales for periods of time going beyond the usual selling date of most games.
It’s the digital age. Let’s act like it.