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Free Games and Mobile Phones, What has Changed?

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No matter where in the world you live, video games have always been in a constant state of change. This is only natural with a form of media so reliant on technological limitations. With each new step forward taken gaming has to find some way to adapt. What we want to look at today is how the free gaming component of this developed not just in Africa, but in the entire world.

In the Hobbyist Age

During the first years of video games, development teams often consisted of only one or two people. Professionally selling their products did happen, but just as often these creatives were happy to share their work freely. Just as with early videotapes, this had to be done hand-to-hand, or by post, as there was no internet over which to send data.


“KW 18: Zeitzeugen #fotoprojekt2014” (CC BY 2.0) by dhaun

Freeware and Shareware

When the internet finally did appear, it was extremely limited by the standards of the day. Of course, the video games of the era were also much smaller than they are now, which meant sharing games even over these slow connections was possible.

In time bulletin board systems (BBS) became the most common way in which people would share full free games. This age also gave rise to the concept of shareware: limited versions of fully developed systems which users were allowed to share with others.

The popular 1993 game Doom, for example, was released in a shareware version online that allowed players access to the first of three episodes. The player could then share this or send away for the full game, which could be mailed to them directly. Naturally, in Africa, limited access made this a much more challenging task than in the United States or Europe.

Both freeware and shareware maintain popularity to this day, though their popularity has been usurped by the development of what are called free-to-play games.

“Quake Shareware version” (CC BY 2.0) by netspi

Free-to-Play

The term free-to-play (F2P) refers to a business model which makes accessing and playing almost all components of a game completely free. On top of this, optional pay elements are included for players who wish to get various non-necessary benefits, such as additional items, characters, and cosmetics.

This concept saw success build slowly, then rapidly expand to the point where it dominated both mobile and desktop platforms. Many free PC games today have gone on to outperform a huge quantity of paid alternatives, despite operating with such a non-traditional funding model. Plarium is one example of a system providing a vast range of games via this system, including titles such as Raid: Shadow Legends and Sparta: War of Empires.

Where do we go from here?

Prior variants of free games remain in use but the new F2P system is by far the most popular alternative. In fact, these systems have even outstripped the revenue generated by more traditional funding. In 2018, the F2P model brought in 80% of all digital game revenue, most of which came from mobile systems.

Given this trajectory, we would only expect a heavier reliance on F2P systems going forward. Related to this is the integration of F2P systems in games which already cost full price, a development which many have heavily criticized as overreaching.

In any case, playing for free has never been easier. Given how expensive base devices can be, this is development almost all of us can get behind, which we look forward to seeing more of in the future.

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