One important difference between shareware and free-to-play

“Trial” and “F2P” might sounds different business models, but if we look things from big higher level, there aren’t that many differences. Kind of.

Let’s look things closely between free-to-play (F2P) and shareware* trials:

*by shareware here I mean games that provide you a demo to check out, and then you can buy full version.

Price to get started:
F2P: free!
Shareware: free! (yes, the full game costs, but you can start to play free)

Cost of full gaming experience:
F2P: 0 to 50+ and more bucks (as long as you keep buying virtual items and stuff, there’s endless amount to pay)

Shareware: 1 to 50 and more bucks (many indie games fall in the 5-20 range, but on the other hand, very many games offer add-ons and stuff like that which in a way is quite similar to “virtual items” that allow you to “explore more stuff”)

Time or feature limitations:
(Does the game have limitation like 60 minutes or something that you can play)

F2P: yes (for example, WoW is said to be “free” to play, and it has level cap which effectively gives you certain time limit… at least you cannot progress after playing the game so much (10 hours or so) that there’s nothing more to gain)

Shareware: yes (Big Fish Games have “try 60 minutes for free and buy after” on all their games, many other games have limited features)

So far, these models actually are somewhat similar. I guess it’s much more typical for F2P games to let people buy “virtual goods” (in F2P), but in my opinion “buying new levels” (expansion pack of a shareware game) is quite close to the same idea. After all the point is that player gets more stuff to use and try.

Size of transaction
Virtual goods can cost like 99 cents or $5 or even $500 or whatever in F2P worlds. Indie games can have full game for like $10 and then $5 add-on contents. In F2P games, players make several more smaller purchases in longer period of time.

In shareware model you see few (possibly) bigger purchases.

So… now what?
From my own experience, there’s certain games that I buy no matter what they cost. There’s indie games that I buy for ten bucks. And I’ve even spent some money on in-game purchases (not that many really).

What is interesting that buying something in game (that costs like a buck or two) doesn’t require much thinking. Essentially, spending 2 bucks on some nice thing feels pretty close to “free” in my mind. Spending $50 for a game is something I stop to think for a second.

In a way, F2P model sounds like a “easy tiny payments scattered over a period of time” (bit like how credit cards work).

I don’t know how far F2P model will go, but I feel that if me and you aren’t prepared and designed our games totally ignoring F2P then we have a serious problem. It’s simply something we gotta take into consideration when figuring out how to price our games.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Funny, I blogged a few days ago about the same thing essentially, but from a mobile gaming market point of view. Take a look at http://habrys.wordpress.com/ and let me know what you think.

    Generally I think IAP is the way to go when it comes to mobile games at least, but not without some concerns. It’s very easy to make your consumers angry, when they feel a game, which has been promised as free to play is not really playable without constantly purchasing something in game.

    Also I think paying for virtual goods tend to work very well (if done right) in online, competitive games, when it can give you an edge over your competitiors. Or just something flashy to wear and stand out from the crowd.

    What I’m not sure about though is if selling of new packs of content (new levels, adventures and so on) using IAP channel is really going to work that well. This is the path I’m going to test…

  2. I totally agree with your last statement. Simply because F2P is here to stay. It is a great business model introduced into gaming. Nexon has been doing it for more than a decade and they are one of the most powerful gaming corps I know in the real of MMO games.

    And it is exactly because of the notion you mentioned that we do not think about it. Even when you go shopping anything below 4$ is considered cheap or ‘free’ and doesn’t require a second thought. But, as soon as you pass the 5$ line, people (well most people) tend to think twice, do I need it? Can I get it cheap elsewhere? And so forth …

    I encourage everyone to implement USEFUL micropayment purchases into their games. That being said, don’t limit the fun or game advancement to purchases that just turns people off. Make it a ‘bonus’.

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