Why Buy Games?

When I was a kid, computer games were a lot harder to get your hands on.  You’d have to go to the store, shell out full price, and then have something to play – kind of like what we’d do at Gamestop now, but that used to be the only way you could (legitimately) get games.

Now, it seems that there’s so many people trying to get you to play their games that they’re willing to let you do it for free.   Consequently, there’s really no point to buying them anymore.

Why buy games?  Rent.

Right now, I’ve subscriptions to GameTap and GameFly.

The first provides, for roughly $50 or so a year, access to more retail games (currently nearly 600) than I could ever hope to reasonably play.  New ones showing up constantly – I have to do is wait a couple years and across my fingers it’ll show up on GameTap.  As a hook, several games are offered for free without a subscription.

The later provides, for roughly $15 a month (more if I want more games at once) access to as many console or handheld games via rental that, again, I could ever hope to play in this lifetime.  All I have to do is suffer the possibility that their stock of the game I want might be rented out for a few days.

Either option nets you a cutting-edge gaming experience with a possible sacrifice of a delay. Such a sacrifice is bearable for anyone who isn’t a slave to instant gratification.

Why rent?  Optional micro-payments are cheaper.

Even high-profile MMORPGs are going free to play.

I’m not just talking about Shadowbane, Tabula Rasa, Archlord, or other games that started with a subscription price but decided they might as well go free-to-play in order to generate enough players to not become inoperable ghost towns.

I’m talking about games such as Maple Story or Runescape which were released from day 1 as free-to-play games and are attempting to haggle payment out of players in terms of gimmicky things like clothing or temporary experience boosts.

In terms of MMORPG quality, I’m not sure there’s such a thing as shelling out more money for higher quality.  I’ve played just about every MMORPG of consequence, and I can tell you that, strictly speaking, a grind is a grind.  I have a hard time saying with a straight face that my time spent in $15/mo City of Heroes was an inherently better game experience than micro-payment-optional Cabal Online (which features a cool Combo System) or Ace Online (which is a pretty neat air-vehicular MMORPG).

Then there’s online games like Guild Wars, which have attempted a subscription model solely tied to box sales.  Guild Wars 2 will also have no subscription fee, but have a fully persistent online world.  It seems this subscription model was successful enough for a sequel.  Therefore, it’s possible the trend is going in this direction: subscription-based MMORPGs are on their way out.

Why pay at all?  It’s free.

Right now, I’m coding a game using Dantom’s BYOND, a little known free development package which, in addition to being a native tile-based online game platform, has an advantage over Flash in that I don’t need to spend $1000 to legitimately develop for it.   BYOND is more than just a development kit, it’s a whole free web-based game distribution network.

How far am I removed from being a developer for a Flash website like Newgrounds? I probably won’t make any money, partly because BYOND and Newgrounds both are treading dangerous ground in that they do not seem to restrict their submissions away from bootlegs of popular intellectual property (e.g. Naruto or Pokemon).  That makes earning money for work there tricky – while I don’t make bootlegs, if the hammer ever came down on that network and I was earning money for what I made there, I might be implicated by the paper trail.

A better example would be perhaps Kongregate or Armor Games.  They restrict bootleg submissions, but are otherwise similar in that they are aggregation sites sporting hundreds of free games for which the developers are offered for perhaps 25%-50% of the ad revenue those games.   (If they’re lucky – I see no sign of Armor Games paying anything to their developers other than  obtaining your own sponsor.)

For a developer, that’s an interesting enough consideration.  For the users, all they really need to know is that there’s a ton of games online that they can play and not pay a dime for.  Even Sony Online Entertainment is developing free-to-play games now.  An ad-supported game market appears to be very much the way games are going.

Why are games free?  They’re being stolen anyway.

Part of the major push towards free games has to do with the major prevalence of computer game piracy.  There’s not much more to say about that other than the statistics tell a fairly clear tale that can be quickly summed up like this:

  • Means to find software without copy protection measures are easy, publicly available, and basically give people free stuff.
  • People like free stuff.  Therefore, are more prone to pirate than pay.  Inadequate enforcement is unable to stop them.
  • Computer software companies attempt to protect their software by enabling copy protection measures, but this is futile: any and all copy protection measures are easily removed.

What we have with free game distribution supported by ads or micro-payments is really more a matter of desperation.   If people aren’t paying for the games they play, perhaps advertisers would, or perhaps they’ll pay for things (such as micropayments) which can be kept under close lock and key of the developer.

Are games, then, worthless?

For the players, the point is clear: Why buy games?  You can get them for free, or nearly free, quite legitimately these days.  (Alternately, you could always steal them, but that’s skirting the question of why buy games a bit too literally.)

You might argue that legitimately gained free games are of lesser quality, but is this really true?  At the core, games have entertained for the same reason since the beginning of time: a biological desire to have fun.  Compared to this, high-end production values are so much unnecessary fluff.  Consequently, when people are giving away any solid-playing game for free, they pretty much are devaluing the entirety of games.

Why Sell Games?

For me, an aspiring designer, the point is slightly different: Why spend my time making games?  Chances of getting a real job doing this are pretty slim when everybody is being forced to give theirs away for free.  I could probably make more money doing landscaping – and I have hay fever.

For me, the answer is simple: I love games far too much.  All my game development endeavors are mostly for my own enjoyment – to provide a little meaning to life by creating a bit of art in my favorite medium.   However, considering games are now free, if I plan in living in something better than a cardboard box it seems I’ll need a real job too.

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