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Examining the Popularity and Monetary Success of Free Gaming

Posted In Games - By Techtiplib on Thursday, April 30th, 2020 With No Comments »

Free games make money. It seems like an odd statement as people don’t have to pay any money to play, but it’s true; free games are highlighting the modern age of gaming. Not only is free gaming the primary feature of the now-established battle royale genre, but it’s also a core feature of the founding fathers of the rapidly ascending eSports industry.

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Of all of the popular computer games played from the 90s until the modern-day, some of the most notable are free games. DOTA 2 is a pillar of eSports and its annual tournament, The International, continues to break records with its multi-million dollar prize pools. Fortnite caught mainstream headlines around the world for raking in billions despite being free.

Free gaming isn’t anything particularly new, but it’s certainly taking different forms these days. It used to be that a game’s price-tag helped players to decide how good it should be, with the main form of free gaming being short demos. Now, free gaming is as profitable as triple-A gaming – if not more so – with players piling into cost-free titles.

The appeal of “try before you buy”

While gaming has become incredibly popular over the last decade, it is still a rather expensive entertainment medium. However, the once-common demo discs and demo modes of games on the likes of the PlayStation have become relatively sparse, despite easy distribution methods through digital stores. While nowadays, potential buyers have the advantage of watching gameplay or scanning review aggregators online, it doesn’t match the hands-on experience.

Knowing that the entertainment medium has been getting increasingly expensive and less accessible, developers have turned to battling on the price-point front to resurrect experiences akin to the classic age of demos. Perhaps the most profound example of embracing the “try before you buy” approach can be seen in the platform of free slot machines. Usually, these online games cost per spin to play, but the free versions give players the full experience without the need to make a deposit, forging a very popular and useful gaming platform.

People are far more money-savvy these days, so they want to see if they enjoy something before they invest money. So, when games are free to play – either as a version of the full paid game or in their entirety – people are far more willing to engage with the product. In turn, reciprocity can kick in, leading to players being happy to pay into the title.

The money-making power of modern free games

Fortnite: Battle Royale made headlines around the world for making $1.2 billion in revenue in 2017/18 despite being free-to-play. To make money, the developers created the game with microtransactions for cosmetic items and a battle pass scheme as core aspects to the business model.

To the uninitiated, cosmetic items don’t appear to impact gameplay, thus shouldn’t hold much value among gamers. However, the appeal of these items is tremendous, as cosmetics are part of the gameplay experience. In online games, playing among other real people makes one’s appearance an essential factor, which game companies know very well. So, putting cosmetics – an aspect that used to be earned in-game – behind a paywall, further supported by a tier system, has become an avenue for developers to make money on free-to-play games.

The battle pass system works differently to the microtransaction cosmetic economy, with players needing to pay a form of subscription to gain access to newer in-game content. So, players can get the core game for free, which has proven to be very enjoyable, and then, if they want more, they have the option to buy into the next phase.

Many people are satisfied with the experience that they gain from having access to free games and free versions of games. Once they’ve played and found that they like the game, there’s then the option to reciprocate and invest money in the game at hand. The process makes gaming much more accessible and is capable of culturing a dedicated audience if it is of a good standard.

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