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Why your game should be free to play

By on April 17, 2012
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A while back, Superdata’s Joost Van Dreunen argued for the role of metrics in game design here on Gamesbrief. Now he’s back, explaining why your game should be free-to-play.


If you were to believe free-to-play evangelists like ngmoco’s Ben Cousins or PopCap’s Giordano Contestabile, then anyone asking whether or not free-to-play is a fad has missed the boat. It’s not the future anymore, they argue, because it’s already here. And from the looks of it, they’re right. Here’s three reasons why.

Free-to-play makes more money

F2P revenue is bigger than subscription. In 2010 the total revenue generated via F2P ($1.3 billion) was greater than the total subscription-based market ($1.1 billion) in the United States. Subscription-based revenue continues to grow, of course, and accounted for $1.3 billion in 2011, up 18% from the year before. F2P revenue grew to $1.6 billion in 2011, up 23 percent year-over-year.

Games give people choices

Games are inherently interactive experiences. Different from songs, shows and movies, video games ask that you engage with them. And so gamers are used to trying things out, seeing whether they can make that shot, snipe that enemy, or find a better way to solve a problem. Put differently, gamers make decisions as part of their entertainment, especially when compared to readers, listeners and viewers. Given this mindset, it can be no surprise that a monetization model that allows for more agency is a much better fit than the traditional ways of charging audiences. People vote with their dollars, after all.

Publishers have cleared the bottleneck

F2P has entered the C-suite. Generally speaking, technological change occurs at a more rapid pace than social change. Humans, in many ways, tend to be the bottle neck when it comes to adopting new technology. The cultural fabric of a game company may not be ready for the demands that a technological shift presents. And so it’s those companies that are innovative enough that reap much of the benefits. Finally, it seems, the notion of free-to-play has entered the C-suite of the large publishers. Where there was little interest only a few years ago, today we hear a growing number of executives sing its praises.

What’s exciting is that it is the decision-makers who are now on-board. This means that they will start advocating free-to-play as either an additional or primary revenue stream for their games portfolio, thereby elevating it to a standard business practice.

So the next question during your strategy meeting should not be “Should we go F2P?” but rather “Why haven’t we yet?”

About Joost Van Dreunen

  • How do they actually make money from free games ? By selling things in game Or by sponsors ?

    Facebook Fun Page

  • Agree with Tyson. I think the sophistication missing here is that, while it may be true that casual gaming has quickly adopted the F2P model, more traditional gametypes may be slower to adopt this. Tribes still seems to be a bit of an anomaly in that respect…

    Just think it’s important to distinguish between types of games development houses, and the cashflows that their particular product types require.

  • Tyson

    There is an F2P version of Fruit Ninja Frenzy on Facebook but its definitely not the same sort of game. Arguably worse if anything.
    F2P only works for a limited number of game types, you can’t Zynga-ize everything.

  • Pingback: 选择免费游戏作为盈利模式的3大理由 | GamerBoom.com 游戏邦()

  • Scot

    there is no after F2P. it’s the perfect cost. Free entry, premium for people who want more. Add subscription with that if the game is extensive.

  • Ross

    The question is surely what’s next after Free to Play?? The rest of us have been doing F2P for a while. Think the discussion has moved on somewhat.

  • Sure works for people who already have the fuel for their projects.

    Not so much for those without.

  • Rob

    Reason #1 is almost a reason not to go free to play.  The revenue for subscription games is for just a couple of games (Wow, TOR, Warhammer, Rift) where the revenue for free to play games is for dozens of games.  Average revenue per game might be a more convincing metric.  And it would get rid of Wow’s effect.  Just going on total revenue, it seems that free to play games should be making far more money than they are.