So this weekend Steam offered ten very different games to its users to play entirely free of charge over the course of three days. After this time you would have to pay to keep the titles, but this was no ten minute demo disc-type gimmick like those of the past; the whole game was yours for this time. Steam hit the top of the Facebook trends ticker doing this too, with far more people than just gaming news sites noticing the move. This is also by no means Steam’s first “free weekend”, but was quite a step up from the single title usually on offer. And it isn’t just Steam doing this now either, with EA’s Origin client also offering out free game time for gamers to have a play with a 100% full and free title before they pay out for it. My question then is this; is try before you buy the future of the video games marketplace?
One thing is for sure; people don’t like parting with their hard earned cash nowadays. We are all a lot more careful about where we put our money after the financial troubles of recent years, and many people like to be sure now that if they are making an investment that it will be a worthwhile one. On the flip side,however, there is a lot more media coverage and hype surrounding video game releases now than there has been in the past. This is down to increased online activity, money within the industry and so forth, but this is not the focus of this article. With increased hype and decreased funds, there is quite a battleground amongst publishers to make their game stand out above others. One way in which this is happening now is, you guessed it, free time with their games.
Take for example Titanfall. A very recent release and indeed a relatively successful one too, Titanfall has done pretty well riding in on the next-gen pony to success. Nevertheless, Origin offered gamers 48 hours with the title recently in order to draw in sales for the game. Why? Well, maybe one reason is closer to what we have already discussed. Games are not cheap anymore. They aren’t cheap to buy, and they also aren’t cheap to make. Extending the shelf life of a successful title by continuing to campaign for sales in this way can benefit both sides of the equation then, especially when free time is usually followed by a discount too. I was one person who tried the game out, and I enjoyed it too, which alongside Steam’s big deal this weekend is what got me thinking about the subject of this article. Perhaps to answer our core question, however, we ought to examine the pros and cons of the “free weekend” idea first.
Naturally, one of the pros of the whole “Try Before You Buy” system we have seen emerging is the fact that gamers are more likely to give things that they may usually overlook ago and therefore sales have a good chance of increasing for the developers and publishers themselves. This doesn’t necessarily mean it is the only way of doing things, as many gamers will still predominantly be drawn in by good marketing and, most importantly, a generally good game. What it does mean is that some developers such as indie teams will get themselves noticed despite a lower level of funding to pump into their titles at release time. This weekend, for example titles such as Grid 2 and Injustice, which are major releases from big publishers, have seen the same level of marketing through this system as smaller titles, such as Don’t Starve. This pro can be summed up in a word, then as “attention” towards games from a whole new angle. It is essentially the core benefit of the system for developers, as it is yet another form of marketing for their title.
From a gamer’s perspective the pros of this system go further, and some have already been briefly touched upon. The most obvious pro is that gamers are not going to pick up a game if they try it and it is rubbish. This might well simply save a gamer money, which they can spend on something they try and very much enjoy; so there are to pros to the gamer here in one! It also means that gamers can try out a wider variety of games from different circles. If something is being offered for free, people are naturally more likely to have a play with it than if they had to pay first and weren’t quite sure about it. “Try Before You Buy” eliminates the gambling element which comes to picking up any game; will I like it or will I not? If the game is free, it does not matter, as you can choose to play it once and leave it or pick it up after the free time and continue to enjoy it forever. As marketing goes, from a gamer’s perspective, there can’t be any trickery or bending of the truth here, the truth is put in your hands to decide upon, and this is a major bonus!
Well, again the development and sales side con is an obvious one; people might try the game, hate it, and this can give you bad press as a result. The gamers lose their gamble through trying games out before they buy them, but the developers take a big one. With elements such as Steam’s review system in place, anyone who doesn’t like a game can clearly and easily say so to the world, and as a result, it is possible that giving people something for free could backfire and drag sales down rather than giving them a boost. It is a friendly model of marketing for sure, but not one without risk. The question then however is does the model come with any more risk than any other does? Offering trailers, demos, gameplay videos and indeed press access to a game could also result in a bad reputation for a title, so does letting people have a go before they commit really leave you any worse off? The model is a relatively new one still, so to get accurate figures on this would be tricky at the moment, but this is certainly the question that cautious sales teams will have in mind…
It is hard to see how there could be any real downside for the gamer with this system. They get something for free, and if they hate it then they never have to look at it again. If they like it, they get a great new game out of it. The only looser here is your wallet, and lets face it, that’s not much different to what the Steam sale does to you every year anyway!
The system is one which we have seen a lot more of recently, and in all honesty its a pretty strong option from a gamer’s point of view. If a marketing objective of any developer is to please the end users, then letting them play their game for free is certainly a winning idea too. No need to nick things from your mate when they are done with it if the developers will lend it to you for a go anyway, and of course the fact that they have offered you something for free wins points from the word go, before you even boot the title up. Now that practically everything to do with gaming is online as well, this marketing style is much more practical and resourceful, hence its rapid growth into a now pretty common idea. All in all, even if this is not THE future for the video games marketplace when it comes down to marketing, it is undoubtedly going to be a major part of it!