How Does the Free Model Work in the Gaming Industry?

How Does the Free Model Work in the Gaming Industry?
The Siliconreview
15 May, 2020

Free samples to new customers and free bonuses to loyal customers are tried and trusted business practices across several industries. In the gaming industry, however, the essence of offering something for free has taken on several new forms.

Given that the idea of games is to get spells of entertainment, it seems counterintuitive that developers and platforms would offer whole games for free. Yet, this strategy is among the most popular and profitable. So, how does the free model work in gaming, and what are the benefits to users and providers when the models are put in place?

Putting the seemingly ineffective elements as optional payments

One of the biggest games of the last few years has been Fortnite. The free-to-play game has made millions despite players having full access to the actual playing functions without paying a penny. The key to Fortnite’s financial success has been its understanding of the power of cosmetic items and how timed and limited aesthetics, such as those that tie into pop-culture, offer renewed appeal.

Having cosmetic items locked behind payments has been the decisive factor. Gamers, in general, don’t respond to games that ask players to pay for items that make them better at the fundamentals of the game – except for the sports games. While cosmetic items don’t impact the results of games, they do affect the gameplay experience per player. This is particularly true in online multiplayer games where people want to look different in the crowd of players.

So, while gamers appreciate the payments not being tied to game results, the developers benefit from them wanting to buy the items because they do alter the gameplay experience.

Offering the game in a free version

They say you get what you pay for, so with free versions of games, people don’t expect much. Most of the time, these free versions are cut down demonstrations or just similar to the real game and on offer for a limited time. However, in the realm of money gaming, free versions of popular titles have become drivers of the industry, making games more accessible and friendlier to newcomers.

In online casino gaming, you have to pay every time you want to play: with the reward, of course, being that you might win real money. So, platforms filled with free complete slot games started to gain popularity. Those who spin get to experience the game in its entirety, seeing how it plays, its options, features, and payouts, but while using free gaming coins. This allows people who just want to play the games to do so for their own entertainment as well as offer inquisitive players a chance to trial the game in its full form without it costing them any money.

This strategy works for parties on either side of the free game. The player gets a hands-on experience for entertainment or information purposes, at zero cost, while the developers gain fans that might eventually seek their paid versions.

A way to avoid the wait

In free games that use a pay-to-win model, it is often seen that players are offered a way to skip past gaining experience, skill, and progression by spending money. In most freemium mobile games, players still experience all of the gameplay and progression, but they’ll only have a certain amount of time to do so before hitting a timed paywall.

The paywall has proven to be a very successful tool in free mobile gaming. Players will usually be given an energy bar, which they can spend on performing certain activities before it runs empty: then, they need to wait for it to refill. Another popular method is making the necessary resources to progress only given gradually over time by other items that cost those same resources to build and start farming from. Mobile gamers have proven to be willing to speed up the wait when these gameplay loops are the core mechanics of likeable titles.

Free games have, as a whole, earned a huge audience that has become accustomed to the process of playing for free and essentially just paying for extras, boosts, or a different experience.