Free Is Great…but What's the Catch?
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Who doesn't like free stuff?

If you raised your hand then give me a dollar because you’re clearly richer than I am. It's always nice when you get little freebies in life and, in the world of gaming, it can be even sweeter. Now, let's face it. We as gamers have picked an expensive hobby. People who collect stamps or balls of string don't exactly break the bank when they participate in their little indulgences. I've recently gotten into playing Magic, and I am hard-pressed to pass by the rack of cards without grabbing a booster pack as an impulse buy. But the point is, I'm only out three bucks, at most. Gaming is a little different. Even if you find a game at the bottom of a bargain bin that's been marked down, you’re still looking at a $20 investment (with day-one release titles going for a minimum of $60 a pop). Now, I'm not exactly complaining, as that's just the nature of the industry. I've also clearly outlined my feelings on the return you get in a recent article that highlights just how much more you get for your gaming dollars compared to other industries.

One simple fact is true; if I know this...then so do those in the gaming industry. You'll note a strange influx of free stuff in the gaming world as of late. Again, this isn't me complaining, just noticing. So it got me thinking. Why now, of all times, do we see game companies giving away little incentives here and there?

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Nintendo recently announced its plan to allow gamers to download a copy of its Wii Fit sequel for the sum of…absolutely nothing. Even for me, who's seen a lot of weird marketing ploys over the years, that was out of left field. I'm not saying it's a bad move on their part; it's just one of those things that makes you sit up and take notice of what that particular game company is doing. Of course, there are little Catch-22s sprinkled-in here and there, such as the game only being available for free ‘til after the new year. It then requires a separate purchase of other Nintendo peripherals. That being said, it worked. We're talking about Nintendo right now.

Let's not overlook Microsoft's equally "generous" offer to gamers. They recently launched a program called Games with Gold that allows subscribers to download two free games a month from Xbox Live, starting on the 1st and 16th of each month. As of this articles writing, the current selection consists of Magic: Dual of the Planeswalker 2013 and Rainbow Six: Vegas (this selection varies from region to region). Even though Vegas is an older game that has become a little long in the tooth (especially compared to more recent entries into the Battlefield and Call of Duty franchises), it's still a retail game you’re getting for free. You know those scenes where the high roller in Vegas is walking around the casino floor, stuffing $20 bills into people’s pockets? That's kind of the Microsoft equivalent here. Also, don't think that just because you’re not already a subscriber you're missing out. They offer this to anyone who becomes a Gold member between now and the end of the year, with new games every month.

It would seem that the only people not jumping on this bandwagon are our friends at Sony. They have yet to roll out any such program and, in fact, have gone in the opposite direction. After it was revealed that Sony would launch its console sooner and, with a price tag $100 under its competitor, many felt Sony had the obvious advantage going into the Fall. Later it was revealed that Microsoft would offer something Sony would not: a packed-in game. The Xbox One will ship with a copy of FIFA 14, making the price gap significantly smaller in the eyes of parents who will no doubt see it as a better value when it comes time to buy for their kids’ Christmas gifts. Sony Entertainment Europe's CEO Jim Ryan seems un-phased when asked if they planned a similar route, responding with "why should we do that?"

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Now, when corporate types act as if this is a weird concept it drives me crazy. Many of the consoles we had growing up came standard with a packed-in game to play. Also, it’s important to understand that some families easily go in debt for a luxury like a game console, so packing in a game for the kids to play isn't a cardinal sin.

The question remains; why, at this point, do we see these types of goodies being dangled in front of us? I can only assume it's directly related to the closing of this chapter of the current-gen and starting the next phase in the endless hardware war. I never see executives of gaming companies so personally invested in tearing down their respective counter parts than I do during these types of transitions. It's a mad scramble to do something that will set them apart, making sure the names Sony or Microsoft is in the forefront of people’s minds. With so many choices, even a company like Nintendo has to do something to make sure they stay present and relevant in an industry that’s getting more and more competitive each generation.

Now, I think I’ll go play Atari with my one-button controller.

Jason Messer
Jason Messer
@J8sonMesser

Contributing Writer
Date: 09/11/2013

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