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Why the ‘free gaming first’ model is taking over on all platforms

People have taken to mobile gaming very quickly thanks to their smartphones being able to handle more demanding – thus, more appealing – options, which hasn’t escaped the attention of all other gaming developers, publishers, and platforms.

The gaming industry has exploded over the last decade or so, being driven by exciting titles and the ever-increasing power of mobile phones. Mobile gaming may not be rated on the same level as online platform gaming or console gaming, but it’s driving the $152.1 billion global market, accounting for 45 percent of the market revenue. People have taken to mobile gaming very quickly thanks to their smartphones being able to handle more demanding – thus, more appealing – options, which hasn’t escaped the attention of all other gaming developers, publishers, and platforms.

One of the reasons why the mobile gaming market is incredibly accessible is that the vast majority of the games in either the Play Store or App Store are free to download. One of the reasons they are incredibly lucrative is that they allow the player to enjoy some free gaming first and then decide if they want to put real money into the title. Now, many other platforms are seeing the benefits of trying a ‘free gaming first’ model.

Just like the good old days with demos

One of the things that made many forms of gaming rather inaccessible for those who were inquisitive of the entertainment medium was the cost to set-up hardware and then to buy games. While the consoles and computers are still expensive, people know that there are now cost-effective ways of finding and playing games that they will actually enjoy.

It used to be that games would release demos, but that practice died down significantly through the 00s. Then, alongside the rise of mobile gaming, and as the fields of gaming became increasingly competitive, more developers and platforms that sell video games have moved back to this ‘free try’ strategy.

On the innovative Nintendo Switch console, which merges handheld and home console games, many of the platform’s titles follow a free gaming first model by offering good-sized demos. In the online space, where slots are the most popular games on platforms, the new form of no-deposit free spins are offered as a way for players to try games for free first.

Even though these games and platforms are giving away playtime for free, they are finding the practice to be healthy for the titles. This is because the games get to reach a wider audience due to the free entry, as opposed to only the player who is already sold on playing the games. As such, more try out the game, find they like it and then commit real money either with an outright purchase or through repeated in-game purchases. It’s why free-to-play title Fortnite: Battle Royale accrued record annual revenues $2.4 billion in 2018.

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Some companies failing to blend the traditional and new approach

Some companies believe the recurrent spending models within these free gaming first titles are the way forward and are trying to combine the in-game purchases within triple-A-priced games. Most recently, Ubisoft has tried to get into the action with Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, with the most headline-catching titles of recent times being Electronic Arts’ Anthem and Bethesda’s Fallout 76. Critics and gamers have deemed all three as failures, putting a very dim light on the potential future of triple-A live service games. Not only were the games effectively broken, but they are riddled with aggressive monetization practices despite their $50-plus price tags.

There is certainly a nuance to offering players this ‘freemium’ model, but when the game costs a lot of money upfront, the practice is far less likely to gain traction or acclaim. For players, free-gaming-first models make the entertainment medium much more accessible, and with more players getting involved, more developers and platforms are exploring ways to deploy the approach.


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