I recently finished playing Rocket Knight, an action platformer game that is easily one of my best experiences with a game on Xbox Live Arcade. After happily writing the review for it, I quickly learned what other people were saying about it: “Fifteen dollars is too much money for just two hours of gameplay. Is it really worth the money? I think maybe my cash is better spent on a longer game.” Even critics give the same opinion. I found a review that gave it an average score when the only bad thing the critic had to say about it was that it cost too much.
At first, this reaction made me fly into a frenzy of nerd-rage so extreme that my mom would have had to come out and tell me to “cool it” if I still lived with her. “How can somebody put a price tag on fun!?” I thought to myself as I smashed the nearest coke can. After having a few days to think about it, though, I realized that I should be asking a different question to gamers (and critics) with the “pricetag on fun” mentality:
“How would your perspective on games change if they were all free?” Join me as I take a theoretical look into how the landscape of gaming would change if developers still received money for “sales,” but all games were free, forcing gamers to think about how they want to spend their time on video games – not their money.
I predict that sandbox games would become immensely less popular. This is by no means because gamers would enjoy them less, but because Pricetag Gamers would feel less obligated to buy them to get their money’s worth. We’d see a lot more interesting ideas from sandbox games to get peoples’ attention.
No more droves of “being gangsters/cops while driving cars in the city and shooting people” settings. We’d probably see a lot more wacky sandbox games like Chibi-Robo!, demonstrating that a big city is not the only way to have a vast, open game world to explore.
Fans of the genre would realize that JRPGs are absolute garbage in their current state. Their charade being up, developers would finally have to explore new territory, and they evolve into a state of gameplay more advanced than what we saw in 1987.
Gamers who falsely thought that JRPGs were dead because they played Final Fantasy 13 and didn’t like it would discover that FF13 was just different and mediocre. Oh, and they would finally be much shorter, now that we won’t feel cheated unless we receive sixty hour-long epics.
Gamers may or may not get more irritable with the intentionally antiquated conventions of retro games. Games like Cave Story, which mix the feel of the old school with the design smarts of the new school, would reign supreme.
Since gamers want to enjoy the nostalgic feelings they get without paying the price of a full retail game for something like Mega Man 10, developers would find it much less risky to make retro games, and we’d probably see an even larger amount of games in this style.
Gamers, no longer having to spend money on Fighters, would stop pissing and moaning about having to pay money for a new iteration of a game that they are positive should have been DLC. (It also might occur to them that they had been paying for the same game with every new Madden release, but that’s probably wishful thinking.)
Developers would now feel free to expand upon their games. It would no longer be as dangerous to spend lots of time adding new characters, content, and gameplay changes to any one game. This is a win-win situation for developers, casual gamers, and competitive gamers alike.
Shovelware, and other assorted awful games based on cartoons
…Actually, these could probably be a lot worse than they are now. These games thrive on uninformed parents buying them, and kids not knowing any better to want them. If they were free, these guys might be the richest people in the business. That’s the one thing about this ideal world that I think would be far less ideal. On the other hand, does it matter? The amount of great games would have increased by so much, who cares if there were still crappy ones?
If you’re reading this and thinking, “No way, dude. Free games would inspire devs to make crappy products,” I would have to say that’s an ignorant and presumptuous argument to take. It’s not something one does for the money, but for the love of the craft. If anything, the current business model is the one that truly forces game developers to rely on established franchises and safe gameplay mechanics in the face of taking real chances with their work.
And there you have it. All your favorite games will still be there, and will probably still be made. Many genres of games will be forced to improve and diversify immediately. Game critics will critique games based on their merits, not their price. The gaming landscape has infinitely improved. And honestly, what did it take? Nothing more than a change of perspective. In this “ideal” world, we had no choice to take on this perspective, because free games were the norm. In our world, we have a choice to look at games as time investments – not monetary investments. So, how about it? Wanna make games better?