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Free games, free software--it's all good

Video games are going down the same road that enterprise software is increasingly taking: free software, paid services.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming. As The Times reports, Electronic Arts has announced that it's going to start giving its games away...for free. What's the catch? It turns out that people spend more on the accoutrements of gaming, given the chance, than on the game itself.

Astute readers will immediately have seen the link to open-source software.

Back to the announcement:

(Electronic Arts) is to give its products away--and then charge users real money to pay as they play....

(CEO of Electronic Arts John) Riccitiello said that an online experiment would be extended to the rest of the world. "We gave the FIFA disc away free, but, instead of charging people for software, we charged small payments within the game: 5p (10 cents) for injury updates, 10p (20 cents) for a new strip (jersey color/uniform). We found that 10 percent of all Korean households downloaded FIFA online and the consumer paid us more online than they would have done buying the game in a store.

"This is a model we're going to expand internationally...The future is pay-as-you-play, downloads and subscriptions."

Not merely in games, of course, as I alluded to above. This is the trend in enterprise software, too: give the software away and charge for service around the software.

In terms of FIFA, I would pay dearly for the game to update clubs, according to transfers, injuries, etc., so that my gaming experience could be more closely tuned to the real league, especially since Arsenal is top of the Premiership now. :-) I'd also pay for Arsenal's third kit (used in international competitions), celebrations specific to the players, the voice of Arsene Wenger calmly exhorting the team onto victory at half-time, etc.

In a Web 2.0 twist, I'd also pay for crowd noise and other fan-generated video and audio clips, which fans could upload to the FIFA service. So, when I have Arsenal playing Tottenham at White Hart Lane, I'd want the White Hart Lane crowd noise coming out of my speakers.

Relating this idea to open source, I can see a time when SugarCRM, JasperSoft, OpenBravo, etc., offer to certify third-party, community add-ons for a fee. (Most commercial open-source companies now have significant community contributions, but these remain in the community because the vendors have yet to monetize them. Bring them "in-house" by certifying them and have users pay to have them supported.

The possibilities are endless, but the underlying trend is clear: the value is not in the software. Software just gives you a platform. It gives you ubiquity. It's what you do after you have adoption that becomes interesting.