How Could All Games Be Free to Play?

Some people keep pirating games/movies and anything they can and they demand all games to be free. I have yet to hear what the payment model should be (since pirates also demand games not just free, but ad-free too).

Flash games are bringing a new system in Flash games: micropayments. They want Flash-gamers to pay for stuff in games. To me this sounds like “ad based system in Flash hasn’t worked, let’s try something else” (it could sound: “hey, downloadable games are using this – let’s do this as well”, but I kind of feel that this isn’t true. Just my gut feeling.)

This got me thinking that (some) game prices are getting cheaper. If ad performance (revenuewise) are getting poorer, where are we heading?

Free magazines have been here forever, and they use ads to fund their stuff. Will that really work for games – all games? If games should be free, how can the developers get their money? From taxes? From hardware makers? Nowhere?

Should all games be free?

Pirates demand it. Players want cheaper games (well, customers always want cheaper stuff)

Why not make all games free?

This got me pondering: what if we’d try to think a solution into this. How could we make all games free to play?

I’m not saying that I’d want games to be free, but I am interested to hear creative ideas. What’s your thoughts: how could we make it so, that games would cost nothing to play for gamers?

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. I think there is an important distinction to make here. If we are taking about huge gaming projects that have development teams with hundreds of developers, artists, etc, then I don’t see the free model working. These are professional projects, with big demands and high expectations. Not to mention they are currently making billions of dollars, so why change?

    However, in the casual gaming market, there is huge potential for free gaming. That’s because a casual game can be made much faster, has much lower expectations, and can be done with a very small team. With this type of game, making up expenditures is easier, so you can risk giving the product for free. You can then use micro-transactions and advertising to turn a profit. Since you can churn out a few games per year, there is good potential for growing profits.

    Personally, I am using the donation/micro-transaction/advertising model for Battle City, an open source game I am developing. It’s more than a casual game, but definitely nothing professional. The game is a multiplayer action/strategy tank wars/city building game, available for free to everyone. Special items can be purchased through donation, and the website has advertising. Right now, I don’t make a profit, but do see enough income to pay for the games server. This is a hobby for me, not my job, so that’s fine. I’m not sure I could make a living off of the free model… or maybe I just need to make a better game? lol :)

    For anyone interested, you can check-out the game at http://battlecity.looble.com

  2. I think one way to have free-to-play games is making a game that is potentially interesting to multiple investors who are not interested in the monetary gains of selling the game. Have a cool mechanic, then figure out how you could use it to benefit others. I have one design that I plan to try to work this way. It could benefit a particular company, because the main mechanics of the game deal with an item almost identical to what the company sells. It could benefit education efforts in certain subjects, because they are also key to the game mechanics.

    It’s basically product placement, but rather than picking the product first, you design parts of the game and figure out ways to make it marketable to many companies. Lower money contribution for some product placement and consumer education seems like a good idea to me for trying to get investors.

  3. @Tyler: Donationware never seems to succeed as a business model though. No matter how great the software, I haven’t come across an individual or company that has “made it” via donations alone.

    @Sebastien: That’s kind of my analysis as well…get eyeballs to your site and content and try to direct them to your “big ticket” items.

    I think the market was heading there eventually but this “rush to the bottom” that the portal companies have embraced is speeding up this horizon whether or not you in fact compete in that arena.

  4. @Sargon: If the world go Star Trek, it is possible :)

  5. What about the ransom model of games? That means the game is essentially free for those who do not want to pay for it, as long as the cost of developing the game is met. So it isn’t that the game will be free for everyone, but as long as you like types of games that are reasonably popular under this model, it is entirely possible to play games for free.

    Reminds me, I must buy some Kongs or whatever Kongregate’s money is called so I can tip people that make artistic games.

  6. I like free games as a player, but not as much as a developer. I like the ad-supported model without intrusive ads. The only solution I see at the moment is to make a free game with a community around it and sell fan stuff like T-shirts, posters, etc.

    People want to get everything for free. Games are almost the only free entertainment stuff you can get. Movies are usually not free, books too.

    The solution is not to make all games free, but some. My best hope with free games is to attract gamers to my website to sell other stuff or get paid with web ads.

  7. Step 1: Make a *good* game

    Step 2: Release it

    Step 3: Publicize like crazy and get lots of people to play and enjoy it

    Step 4: Tell people if they want more games they have to donate, and when the donation gets up to a desired amount of money (which you tell the customers ahead of time), you release your next game/add-on/expansion/etc.

  8. Well, you do want to make money somehow?
    Like it was said here, someone needs to pay somehow for your game, in order for you to earn money out of it.
    So why do people demand free games if they will pay for the games in the back door?
    Or do they want other people to pay so they could play your game?
    In that case(like already said here), you really need to focus on the people who are willing to pay and not the people who want others to pay for them.
    Also, you can always release a free game in the hopes it will become so popular that a lot of people will want to pay for your next game.
    Of course, making games is also fun and not all buisseness.
    But I was wearing the hat of a buisseness man in this case.

  9. @Ilya: true. there’s also ad-supported & paid tv channels. good points.

    @Brian: very good points about finding the right people. that’s so true.

    @Jörgen: not sure… I think people are willing to pay for stuff they really want. But still, I think this is at least interesting to think about.

    I wasn’t actually thinking just pirates when I made this blog post. I’m also thinking about the customers who have bought games…

  10. Some pirates are impossible to satisfy. Because they think money and capitalism is out dated.
    They want a world in which every person contribute for the benefit of the human race. And that people will do what they really love to do, and not work and suffer as a paid worker.
    I don’t believe such a world can work out, and I think that capitalism is the least worst solution that we got. Though I am not sure about it.
    So unless you are planning to make 0 money out of your game, you won’t be able to satisfy some pirates.

  11. But the console manufacturers take a loss on the console, either the consoles would be outrageously expensive, or we’d have to work that into the equasion.


  12. Heh, answer this question:

    How can EA make even more billions of dollars, without selling their games to customers?

    The money has to come from somewhere (and I doubt that ads can make so much money that direct sales can). Free services with ads are payed by buying customers, so it’s not free either, you just pay somewhere else (or parasite on other’s money if you dont buy).

    This ‘paying elsewhere’ is the only way. So my question is: who is gonna “pay ME” for playing games? And why?

  13. I’m a big fan of the microtransaction model for MMOs. But, I don’t think you can shoehorn that model into every game. I don’t think we should.

    As much as the masses cry for free games, there are some people who will pay for games. The trick isn’t to figure out how to get lots of people too pay for games, but to figure out who will pay for games and give them the games they are willing to pay for. This may mean that the pirates find games just aren’t made for them anymore.

    At any rate, I don’t think AAA type titles are going to go extinct anytime soon. But, I’d like to see more indie games that focus on a particular niche that gives people exactly what they want.

  14. Is there really people thinking “I want it free” or do they think “I don´t want to pay for it”?

    If you count out the people who don’t have the choice because they have no money, it would be interesting to hear why people don’t want to pay for something they like to use.

    The main reasons I can think of for not paying for stuff, is that:

    1. I can’t get hold on it in a simple way (i.e. download it now!)
    2. It is too expensive comparing too the fun I get out it.
    3. I don’t care about that it cost money to make games, music or movies
    4. The penalty/risk of getting caught is so small comparing to the cost of buying the game.

    But thinking that I should get it for free because I have a right to it, that’s plain stupid. It should be common knowledge that people need money to live, and the things you buy pays peoples salaries.

    But the question was “How could all games be free to play?” (without ads). And one solution is to let people make games at their spare time in open source-ish ways. Perhaps partly funded by companies who don’t care of being shown with the product. They just like the cause :)

    And I have yet to be convinced that open source projects don’t suck in general (when it comes to games).

  15. Free magazines did not replace paid magazines, both co-exist happily. Similarly, traditional retail games will continue to exist alongside free, ad-supported and micro-transaction games. There is no point in making *all* games free.

    Probably, there will be some mix of that, like infamous versus DLC for Resident Evil 5 too soon after release to raise cries of bloody murder or a single-use code to download extra maps for Gears of War 2, so if you resell the game, a new owner will have to buy them separately.

    Some games, like Team Fortress 2, provide free updates after the initial purchase, some others, like Burnout or Little Big Planet mix free and paid DLC.

    There seem to be a trend to release a simplified or just similar themed free flash game to support the main game as with Mirror’s Edge 2D or Patapon 2.

  16. I could be done so that the game itself is free, but the artists, programmers and producers would need things to create the game. Then people can send those things to them which they need. There could be a list of items what they need to make the game, it could include things like: 2000 liter 95 octane fuel, 5000 liter beer, 500kg clothes, 20 nvidia gtx295, 5000 packs of cigarettes, 5 sunglasses, 200 liter shampoo, 5 combs, etc…
    Sum up the costs of those things, and you get a nice saving of money.

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