Free games have been around for a long time, such as with browser-based games, but the term ‘free game’ has a very different meaning these days. When you install a free game now, you expect there to either be a microtransaction store for cosmetic or pay-to-play content or time walls which you can pay to climb over. Then, of course, there are the pseudo free games which are only free if you pay for something first, such as the long-running release schedule of titles that come with the paid subscription of Xbox Gold.
Perversely, free games are now viable sources of revenue for developers, publishers, and platforms. By taking content that used to be included as a part of the gameplay experience and putting them behind paywalls, they can get players to pay in money after their free entry. It’s proven to be incredibly lucrative in many instances, so why are there still developers and platforms offering truly free games?
Competition and exposure
Epic Games rose to prominence thanks to its free-to-play game Fortnite catching like wildfire to bring the company billions. They decided to use the waves of cash from microtransactions and battle pass payments to mount a full-on assault on the PC game launcher monopoly of Valve’s Steam. With gamers unwilling to split their established collections on Steam and the platform being so long-established, the Epic Games Store had to go big.
So, the upstart launcher decided to dip back into the strategy that pulled them to the top: free gaming. These games are as free as the term should suggest, with the ability to download the selected games for free only requiring players to make a free account and add them to their collection within the window. Epic does this every week, along with offering other sales, which has allowed them to win over a large portion of the PC gaming audience.
Competition is a significant driver. The Epic Games Store sought to jump in as a worthy competitor, whereas other providers of free games online are already in the middle of an incredibly competitive sector. In online casino gaming, you can play free slots even though the very essence of the games revolves around paying out money. The developers realise the benefits in the extra exposure and the mantra of ‘try before you buy’ when it comes to growing as a brand within a competitive industry. The completely free games like Egypt Sky, Dragon Reborn, Aztec Glory, and Green Lantern all help to enhance the profile of their developers while delivering free entertainment.
For the love of gaming
One of the many reasons why people trawl through collections of indie games is because the commitment and passion put into them by small teams or even a single person can create true gems. Platforms like the Nintendo Switch have now given a new stage and spotlight to indie games, enhancing the chance for the developers to make money from their efforts. Still, some developers just want to create fun and accessible titles.
Games like Digital: A Love Story and Spelunky were released for free to the world, earning a great deal of praise for their superb gameplay mechanics and presentation. While doing so does help to bring these developers exposure, the games were initially made for fun and to deliver entertainment. If you have the tools, making games can be very entertaining in itself, and seeing people play and enjoy your creation makes it even more appealing. It’s why people have paid to play creator titles like Super Mario Maker 2, Dreams, and Game Dev Tycoon.
Offering games entirely for free seems bizarre in an age where ‘free’ games can make a lot of money. However, several platforms and developers are using the natural appeal of truly free games to compete, enhance their standing, and sometimes just for the love of the art.
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