Games are free

May 09, 2020

A long long time ago, in this town, a young boy wanted to become a game designer. The desire was strong, he went to university in the field, he took part in various competitions and made a few prototypes. He even got paid to make a game once. However, eventually, that boy didn't follow through with this dream.

The arguments are many, but above all... if I am going to do software for a significant part of my life, why jump in a field which is insanely risky for the amount of payout it provides? And I don't just mean financial payout, but generally... in terms of all aspects regarding quality of life. Massive scandals with crunch, and layoffs were ongoing at the time for various sized studios, as well as stories about how small studios are not actually surviving, in an insanely crowded market. I have no first hand knowledge that those stories are true, but I do know this. As a player, games feel cheaper than ever.

What's the price of a game?

Non gamers talk about Black Friday as if it were some important sales event. The videos and stories of what appear to be armies of people raiding and stampeding cashiers over stacks of toasters at a discount are well known to most of society. I for one find those amusing, and childish in comparison to the sales of game markets known to us all.

To my knowledge, if low prices make people go insane, then the only reason the ER rooms are not overloaded by stabbings during game sales is because there is an infinity of copies available for each game. During a sale, the number changes are truly not normal. I've never seen a game increase in price and multiple $60 games from 3-4 years ago are regularly on sale for under 5$. The only time I've seen such drops outside of games are weird online sales where someone claims to be offering a $2000 training course for 60 bucks, and every time I see that I know the original packaging was inflated, and either never priced that high, or never worth that much.

And all this happens every few months. Sales are not rare events. It feels like with games almost every 2-3 months there's a sale with hundreds of titles on display.

In an oversaturated market, where over 600 games were released every month in 2019 it makes sense this would happen. It makes sense that breaking out is nigh impossible, and even if something I would have made was stellar, I would need an insane amount of luck to just be at peace.

Everything here was true several years ago when I made my choice. I am currently glad I continue to do software development with none of the extreme pressure caused by this brutally competitive environment.

So much is free

Not all is gloomy for devs, there are plenty of ways to actually make money in this environment. Yet the effects are more interesting for players. It is these effects which made me write this piece.

Back during university, there was one source of cheap games. Some guys came up with HumbleBundle: let's bundle old small interesting games, sell them at a dirt cheap price (1$), and donate most profits to charity. Old games which don't really sell anymore. That's... like... 2 year old games. One Dollar. Well, ok, they have a few other tiers which give you more games, and slighty better ones.

These were good games. Actually enjoyable and varied experiences. I bought around 12-13 of these packs (many for higher prices, but always cheaper than any 1 single game in that pack). My steam library has 290 games right now and (I think) 97% of them are from humble bundles or free titles.

For consoles, you'd get cheap subscriptions, which gave you old games for free. I've no idea how many, but same mechanism. Cheap bundles, here you go, play them!

Now, platforms like Epic Store started giving out free games to players every week, without a subscription. These are good games. Actually enjoyable and varied experiences. Some of my all time favorite titles (like "The Witness") are on this list. A few great AAA titles are on this list (like the Batman Arkham series). I have collected over 90 free titles since I've opened this account.

These are only the platforms I know about. There are likely many more out there.

The Joy of exploration

Games are free now. If I want to play something, I can. If I want to try something new, I don't even need to search for a curator, find reviews... I can just install something and see if I like it.

Games, feel like free Netflix. Imagine if the experience you had on Netflix, was free... and someone had already filtered out the junk for you. If the paradox of choice was not there and you could simply choose between 50 titles instead of 5000. 50 titles which had pretty decent reviews (at minimum).

We've gotten to the point where my favorite gaming experience is exploring a title I would have never known the existence of, and finding out it's actually pretty cool! For free. And I have no idea how this came to be.

Being a game designer was such an desirable job, with such a low barrier to entry, that over time it turns out it made one of the best experiences of discovery to be free. And if you're like me, playing casually every once in a while, I don't think you'll need to pay for games in the next few years.