If you’ve never heard the phrase ‘freemium’ before, you’re more than likely still familiar with the idea. A portmanteau of the words ‘free’ and ‘premium’, freemium games are games which are free to download and play, but which contain the option to buy additional extras. These extras could be new skins, in game currency, or the option to play without adverts. Often these are things which are achievable without paying real money but can be difficult to earn or take a lot of time. For example, freemium game Pokemon GO allows users to buy upgrades and potions using the in-game currency of Pokecoins. You can earn a maximum of 50 Pokecoins every day, but only if one of your pokemon is placed in a gym for the required amount of time. Alternatively, you can buy 100 pokecoins for £0.79, which is a very tempting offer.
The popularity of Freemium Games
Freemium games became the most popular model of mobile games over the last decade, with the idea now also spreading to console and PC games like Fortnite. This is mostly due to a shift in user expectation. Before smartphones made mobile gaming possible, gamers were used to purchasing a game outright. A few patches would be released to fix bugs or add additional content, but mostly, what you bought was what you got. But when games such as Farmville, Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga gained mass global followings, all without charging players to ‘purchase’ the game, gamers began to balk at the idea of paying for a mobile game. And why should they, when there were free games of really high quality that were readily available?
Now, over a decade later, the expectation is that players will get something for nothing. This directly correlates with the rise in casual gamers – those who play off and on, looking to relax rather than rack up high scores and masses of achievements. Casual gamers aren’t as invested in the hobby as serious gamers, and because they play without real commitment, and probably dabble in several different games simultaneously, they don’t want to keep paying money for games they might quickly discard.
It might seem then that this is a doomed business model, but it is actually the large number of free-to-play players which make freemium games work, for two reasons: they provide a ready pool for competitive players to play against, and feel good about beating, and they always have the potential of being turned into paying customers. Another prominent aspect of the freemium games model is that it encourages developers to keep adding additional content, refining existing content and offering promotions to keep players interested. And the right offer/extra and the right price might just be enough to tempt someone into spending money for the first time.
Online casinos in the freemium model
This is also a reason why online casinos have jumped on the freemium model. Realising that players are more likely to spend money on games if they have tried them first and know that they like them, some of the best legal American online casinos now offer introductory offers that include a certain numbers of games played for free. Some of the sites also include the option to play their games for free, although you cannot win anything from these free plays however get a chance to play before you pay. Many online slots also offer free plays as bonuses, with gamblers enticed yet again by the idea of getting something for nothing.
What about the future?
It certainly looks like freemium games are not only here to stay but will continue to increase their dominance in the gaming market. While that is mostly a good thing, allowing millions of users to continue to play their favourite games without spending a single penny, there are a few issues. There are different ways of making your game freemium, and some developers seem to have missed the point completely. They release games which constantly bombard the player with adverts in an attempt to bully them into buying the advert-free option – most of the time this just results in people uninstalling the game. Or they favour the pay-to-players so much that they create a huge schism between the free and paid experience, meaning that free-to-play users will get frustrated with their inability to keep up. While some of these players will start making purchases, again, the majority will probably switch to something less aggressive about its paid marketing.
But good freemium games keep the market alive. They keep casual gamers interested, which increases the variety for the paid players too. If the target is conversions – free players who begin paying – then the best way to achieve these is by making the game attractive and enjoyable, rather than dangling shiny purchase-only options. This is where the online casinos have got the right idea – offer the games for free for a limited time, so that people can see what that what is available is worth paying for.