The old adage of “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” is one that rings true in many areas of life. Social media services are only free because the platforms use your data to sell advertisements and suggest new influencers to you; free trials only exist because companies want you to keep buying afterwards; and airline frequent flyer programs may get you free flights, but you have to spend a lot to save up enough points in the first place.
So, with that in mind, it’s easy to be suspicious about whether free games are going to be any good. After all, it takes a lot of time, effort, and skill to create quality games and most are produced by large teams which cost a lot of money to run.
For that reason, publishers have traditionally charged money for people to buy and play their games. So why would they offer games for free and are they any good?
The Try Before You Buy Model
Some games can be enjoyed for free in a limited capacity before you have to pay. This has been a practice used by developers and publishers for decades to great effect.
In the 1990s, Doom became a cult hit thanks to the shareware model that allowed players to enjoy the first few levels for free and to share copies of it with their friends. If they liked it enough to want more, then they could pay extra for the full version.
Online casinos have also developed a model where they let players enjoy their slots for free. They do this by offering bonuses to new customers as an incentive for signing up and as part of regular ongoing promotions. This works in a similar way to the approach used by the publishers of Doom as it allows players to try out different slot games to see which ones they like before they play with real money.
With this format, it behooves publishers to create quality games as players wouldn’t be willing to pay to continue using them otherwise.
In more recent years, a new method of distributing games for free has emerged. Known as the free-to-play model, it involves giving players the entire title for free with unlimited access to it.
However, players might be shown ads and/or offers to buy in-game items via microtransactions such as character skins, skill upgrades, new weapons, in-game currency, or the ability to skip waiting periods.
While the vast majority of players won’t spend anything, enough will to more than make the model worthwhile for publishers. In fact, the model is so successful that some publishers like Take-Two and Epic Games now make the majority of their income from microtransactions.
Under this model, it’s also important for publishers to create quality games as players are going to be unwilling to pay for in-game items if the title is not fun and enjoyable.
So, while there may not be any such thing as a free lunch, you can certainly say that many free games are going to be good enough to be worth your time.