How do you feel about free games? This is pretty much a rhetorical question, because we know how everyone feels. Free games are great! People love them. They will download things they normally wouldn’t sometimes, because they are free. But, do publishers and developers sometimes forget how influential something being free can be? Should companies be paying more attention to the response and using it to their advantage?
Consider For Honor. For a brief period in 2018, Ubisoft decided to give it away for free. Basically, between August 23-27, 2018, people could add it to their Steam libraries and keep it for good. Something extraordinary happened, when this option was made available. Before it was free, about 5,000 people were online playing. Once it was made free on August 23, those numbers jumped to about 210,000 concurrent players. Clearly, going free was a big deal and had an incredible impact. You know Ubisoft is going to pay attention to that, seeing as how it wants to get people into this particular title.
Valve clearly doesn’t underestimate the power of a free game. When was the last time you paid money to start playing a Valve game? For a lot of people, the answer might be, “I bought Portal 2.” That is because the company knows its free-to-play efforts are doing more for them. Dota 2 is regularly among the most played games on Steam, usually in the top five. People buy up battle passes for it and other content, supporting it. Yes, it is going to make Artifact a paid game at launch, but think of Team Fortress 2. It was originally a paid game. It was a part of The Orange Box. You could expect to pay $50 for that bundle originally, before it started appearing for sale on its own, then becoming free. And look at how Team Fortress 2 still thrives and makes Valve money!
Even Bethesda had to learn this lesson the hard way. When The Elder Scrolls Online first launched, it was a MMORPG where you first had to buy the game, then have to pay a monthly subscription fee to keep playing and enjoying the experience. It launched in 2014 on PCs, then in 2015 on consoles. But, before the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One version’s June 2015 debut, the subscription fee was dropped in January 2015. Why? It was keeping people away from the game! They did not want to pay to keep playing. Dropping that extra fee has kept people in. Sometimes, those people even pay more money for the expansion areas. Bethesda still benefits, and people do too.
Clearly, other companies are doing great when relying on their free-to-play games. Think about Riot Games’ League of Legends. That game is an icon and has been since 2009. One of the reasons it is enduring, aside from addictive gameplay, continuous support, and interesting characters, is because you can play it for free. People are drawn to it. The same happens with World of Tanks. I know, you probably see those ads for it online all the time. You may even wonder if people are all that fascinated with tanks. But they are! This free game has been around since 2010, and even received console ports! People genuinely enjoy it, and you have to imagine part of that happened because it was free, so they could take a chance.
Clearly, the free approached helped all of these games. Ubisoft might even have learned its lesson with For Honor. Could we see more companies taking notice of this? Maybe more publishers will want to take a chance to see if life can be brought into an older game and make it a moneymaker? It could definitely benefit players!