The word “free” comes with quite a bit of baggage. Just sticking to money, as opposed to freedom, rights, and so forth, the baggage is not always flattering. I see things being offered as “free” all the time, usually falling into one of these categories (straight from my spam folder):
- Buy one, get one free
- Free with purchase
- Free gift with paid subscription
- Free if you order now
- Free consultation
- Free resort vacation
The first four are not free. Nothing is “free” if you have to buy something to get it. And of the latter two, a free consultation is likely nothing more than an extended sales pitch, while the final one on the list is free if you don’t count the time you need to spend at the hard sell presentation to get you to buy a time share condo. The purpose of the exercise is to get you to buy, not to give you a vacation.
Basically, the word “free” is pretty much a red flag to me. I am either not getting anything for free or it is just a lure to try and sell me something.
Sometimes it is okay. At the grocery store, if something on the shopping list is “Buy X, Get Y Free,” then that amounts to a price break, so long as it isn’t something perishable that will likely go bad before we use it.
So, despite the fact that, at an intellectual level, I can accept the MMO free to play business model for what it is and can see that it is beneficial in some ways ( it has probably kept LOTRO alive a couple of years longer than it might have otherwise lasted) at another more emotional level, it still sits on the same plane as somebody trying to sell me a timeshare in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Cue rant about EverQuest II popping up the “upgrade to GOLD” dialog in the middle of combat.)
Does anybody use “free” as their prime marketing message and not suffer from this? Can free be a business model without the intent to hit people up early and often for some money?
I like the Rift ad especially. That they felt the need to add “No Trials. No Tricks. No Traps.” speaks volumes. And I think, of F2P models, they do offer more for free than most. Probably too much, truth be told. But it is clear that they understand the stigma, while perpetuating it at the same time.
Of course, this might just be me. There is a very strong “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” theme in my world view.
I started writing this post a couple of weeks back after reading a particularly asinine “how dare you expect to play for free” comment in some thread somewhere. “Devs gotta eat, who are you to question them?” sort of stuff. I should have saved that link… or maybe it was better that I did not. Anyway, I started in but my head of steam dissipated quickly, as it tends to on this topic these days.
And then the European Commission announced that they were looking into the use of the word “free” when used with games that have in-app purchases, with an eye to it being misleading. And while their focus seems to be more on mobile apps, if “free” becomes bad for in-app purchases on one platform, it is pretty easy to then extend it to others.
I thought this would lead to another round of free to play blog posts, but not much has come along. Azuriel posits that basically nothing can ever be called free if the European Commission’s potential ruling comes to pass, at least in the EU. Meanwhile, Green Armadillo seems to be more on my own wave length, that using the word “free” when you fully expect somebody to pay is misleading at some level.
I was also interested to learn in that post that League of Legends has apparently stopped marketing with the word “free.” Good for them. (Though I had to quickly update my collage of free, as I had an old “Play for Free” LoL image in it.)
I can be a cynic, the world having thus shaped me, and talk about money tends to bring out the worst in people… you can mess with a lot of things, but as soon as cash is involved, the lid tends to come right off… but I also have mixed feelings on this. Who decides what the litmus test is to determine how “free” something has to be in order to claim to be “free?” And there is something to be said for personal responsibility.
What do you think? To be “free” or not to be “free?”