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Taking Freemium Back to its Roots

/ Dec 5th, 2016 No Comments

The popularity of video games may be at an all-time high now thanks to the amount of console and PC gamers and the quickly evolving mobile games market. Because of this, all sorts of money making schemes have become the norm for the industry. Arguably the most controversial of these schemes is freemium gaming.

This is when games are offered free of charge, but obtaining virtual goods in the game requires players to spend real-life money. Paid extras could also include bonus tries without having to wait a certain time period, bypassing difficult sections and disabling ads.

These items may seem optional, but freemium games are designed in a way to push people to spend real-life money. In some cases, there’s no other choice but to spend money if people want to fully experience what a game has to offer.

Pay to Play

While such taxation to fully enjoy a game may seem to be a blatant ponzi scheme, it’s sadly working. A recent report by marketing firm Swerve found that a meager 0.19% of mobile phone gamers are responsible for providing approximately half of the large revenue freemium games earn. That small percentage spends an average of $24.66 on goods sold in freemium games.

This undoubtedly fuels the negative perception freemium gaming has earned — including the derogatory term “Pay2Win.” To say many people consider the freemium model dishonest is an understatement.
 

Canndy Crush

Candy Crush asks players to buy virtual gold which can be used to buy items.

But the freemium model has roots. Those roots extend back to a model far more honest but more widely celebrated in the gaming community: shareware.

Demo Days

Shareware is model that allows users to enjoy a full part or, in vey rare cases, whole programs absolutely free. Shareware games typically require a small one-time payment. As a bonus, the user is free to distribute shareware products without any penalty.

The model’s first documented use was in 1982, when it was used for the communications software program PC-Talk. Its author, Andrew Fluegelman, offered the program for free while encouraging others to share and copy the program with others. Fluegelman requested that people send him $25 if they liked the software.

The concept was revolutionary. Fluegelman not only enjoyed great financial success, but also helped begin an amazing trend that eventually spread to video games. Apogee Software, now known as 3D Realms, is a key component as to why that happened.
 

Jazz Jackrabbit

Jazz Jackrabbit remains one of the most iconic shareware games for the DOS platform.

Apogee’s shareware approach was initially the same as Fluegelman’s, with the company offering its games freely while encouraging people to pay. Eventually, company officials took an unprecedented approach to guarantee more finances to produce future games.

Beginning with Kingdom of Kroz, Apogee offered games in an episodic format, with the first episode available for free. If people liked the game and wanted to truly win it, they would have to complete all the episodes. To do that, they had purchase the full game.

This model, known as the “Apogee Model,” was a major success, and it innovated how games were sold. Apogee’s success led to other companies to adopt the model. It also helped lead to a number of games becoming successes, including Commander Keen, Doom and Quake.

The Evolution of Freemium Games

Games that use the Apogee Model no longer ask for payment. Players actually own the game and don’t have to worry about being asked to pay real money. Freemium isn’t as merciful. Although you technically own the game, you may still find yourself pressured — or even forced — to make in-game purchases.
 

Doom Classic

Some shareware games remain in circulation today.

Having to pay only once to fully play a game is certainly possible, but this is becoming increasingly rare, even in console gaming. This concept of paying just once for a game is fast becoming an antique novelty in the age of repeat transactions and post-release downloadable content.

Even today, paying a one-time only up-front fee for a game is all players should be asked to do. After that, the only thing players should be taxed on is their skill. If publishers and developers need more money after that, there are other alternatives to accomplish that goal without resorting to dubious methods. If publishers really want to offer games for free with the goal of making money, why not resort back to the shareware model of the past?

 

Jonathan Anson

Jonathan Anson

Jonathan has been a lover of video games since his father brought home a Windows 95 computer. When he's not doing that he indulges in his other passion: writing. Jonathan holds an AA degree in Journalism from Saddleback College in Southern California.
Jonathan Anson
Jonathan Anson

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