Freemium – The times they are a changing

It wasn’t all that long ago that video games were a real high value luxury expense. In the era of the PS2 and Xbox, it was rare to find a new release title for under  €30 (or £25 for those of you in the UK) and these titles were rarely, if ever, any good. Sure, the PC casual market had some free browser games and low cost titles like Bejeweled or Plants vs Zombies… but the idea of a free game every bit as good as a AAA title was, for me at least, an alien concept.

As a long time gamer I’ve had trouble adjusting to this age where games are so readily accessible  for little to no cost. Freemium has changed the way we game and its likely to continue to do so for many years to come. It started with casual titles that seemed more than a little exploitative (ie. Farmville) but now however, you can get titles like Hawken, Warframe, Blacklight: Retribution and even hugely successful titles like League of Legends for free.

Sure there are mechanics in place to ensure that players spend money and while these “schemes” initially drove me away from the freemium model, I’ve come to understand how they can be every bit as fair as their boxed/off the shelve counterparts.

When I started to play Warframe on my PC I vowed (as per usual) that I wouldn’t spend any money on this freemium title. I believed that there would be a wall I would hit where playing without paying would become tiresome and I would just give up and go find something else. Instead I found myself pumping 50 hours into the game in no time at all and I started to wonder… What is wrong with spending some cash on this game that I am clearly enjoying so much.

I mean, had I bought Warframe for 50 bucks, I would have felt my purchase was justified… so why not buy some weapons or armour, here and there, to buff my avatar up. I mean, it makes sense right?

I’ve since bought about 12 euros worth of items in Warframe and I feel that every item has been value for money, especially when you consider the return I’ve gotten in terms of entertainment. I’m nearly hitting the 80 hour mark and I’ve spend less than a third of the cost associated with a new AAA “pay-up-front” title. This scenario has changed my opinion of freemium and its importance in the gaming ecosystem.

While doing research for a project I’m working on I began to indulge in Pixel People, a fantastic little title that balances free to play with in-app purchases incredibly well. Having dropped a few euros on Warframe, I saw nothing wrong with paying about 2 – 4 euros on items in Pixel People. Getting past the initial stigma my mind had associated with the freemium model due to early exploitative titles, I’ve started to understand and appreciate the concept far more.

If you love a particular game, why wouldn’t you want to spend money on it. You’d have no problem buying it in a store so why not drop 2 euros here and there on extra items/levels etc.

Coming from my background within gaming it’s taken me longer than most to adjust to this brave new model but I don’t regret any money I’ve spent on freemium games. How about you? What are your thoughts on freemium games? Exploititve? Or an interesting and sensible way forward?

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