[In Divnich Divines, EEDAR Vice President and videogame analyst Jesse Divnich traverses the bogs of sales data, hype, and good old fashioned game geekery to give you his two cents on hot topics in the game industry]
At a time when the games industry is starting to embrace free-to-play models in favor of subscription models on an increasing amount of platforms, while publishers still treat the second-hand market as a cancerous disease instead of the potential for brand-loyalty it may provide, the concept of "free" is simultaneously a hot and a touchy subject for different parties involved.
In EEDAR's July 2011 Retail Buyer Report, which focused on the success and effects of Sony's "Welcome Back" program that the company positioned to regain consumer trust in its PlayStation Network following the hacks, the research firm found that more people acquired downloadable titles on the PS3 in June compared to March this year -- even when accounting for the free games on offer.
While that might be surprising in itself, the firm also found that consumer interest for other titles within the same franchises was increased in the period these games were offered for free. When marketing budgets are bloating the cost of AAA projects more and more, just to fight for the average consumer's precious bit of conscious elaboration of content, perhaps making a certain game free might end up making (or saving) you more money than you might expect.
For this edition of Divnich Divines, the question for EEDAR's Jesse Divnich is:
"What are the benefits of offering a game for free?"
Divnich: "Unlike ten years ago, the consumer of today has a copious amount of choices when it comes to interactive entertainment and as such, traditional forms of video games must transform itself to reflect new business strategies to keep the traditional gamer engaged.
"In video games, however, this idea of sequence is nearly lacking. A game goes from premium retail shelve space, to the bargain bin, and finally out the door for ever. Sure, in a lot of cases we see a digital release on XBLA or PSN, but the content is identical and generally parodies the current retail price point. In other cases, we do see a 'Game of the Year' addition that includes all previously released DLC, but that is generally reserved for the top 1% of titles and of course still holds some form of pricing barrier.
"The results of the Welcome Back program are crystal clear, offering a free game for a limited period of time increases the awareness, engagement, and excitement around other products within the brand’s hierarchy (i.e., sequels) and if a publisher could plan a free limited time release about six to eight weeks prior to the next iterations release, the data would suggest that it would positively impact sales of the next iteration (at the benefit of a full price).
How do you look at games that become free for a (short) period? Do they remind you of IPs you had completely forgotten about? Do you simply grab a game purely because it's free while would never have considered paying for it, even though you know you'll probably still never play it? Or do you sometimes find a gem of a game that you want more of in the future, realizing you never would've known it was actually that good if it hadn't been offered for free?