Making money with "free-to-play" games

Free-to-play games carry similar challenges to open source products--confusion in what customers get and where they can find value isn't helping.

Dave Rosenberg Co-founder, MuleSource
Dave Rosenberg has more than 15 years of technology and marketing experience that spans from Bell Labs to startup IPOs to open-source and cloud software companies. He is CEO and founder of Nodeable, co-founder of MuleSoft, and managing director for Hardy Way. He is an adviser to DataStax, IT Database, and Puppet Labs.
Dave Rosenberg
2 min read

Free-to-play games are looking more and more like open source products as commercial entities behind the development and operations figure out ways in which to add value and monetize their user base.

In the open source world this typically consists of a split between "Community" and "Enterprise" versions of the products. For casual and free-to-play games, the split tends to be associated with some kind of premium offering or a payment mechanism like micro-transactions.

David Chang, Executive VP of Business Development and Marketing at online game publisher Gamescampus discusses the challenges of "free-to-play" in a recent editorial.

In terms of a solution, I propose calling our games "MTS Games" (Micro-Transaction Service) or even MTG (Micro-Transaction Games) if you prefer. I think this label, while a bit technical, gets rid of the "As seen on TV" quality stigma and cynicism that "free to play" engenders (it really can't be free--can it?) Equally important is to define what an MTS game is (and what it is not). An MTS game would be a game that: An MTS game would be a game that:

1. Requires no purchase to download and play the game
2. Does not have a level-cap or content-cap beyond which you need to pay
3. Is at least partially monetized by sales of in-game goods

By calling our games MTS games, I hope to separate our games from the cynicism associated with the "free to play" label. I think the definition above also addresses the bait-and-switch concerns as well as an MTS game as defined above would not require any purchases to play.

There are obvious parallels with commercial open source efforts, including the challenges associated with the word "free." It's perfectly acceptable to charge people for software (and really anything else) that they find value in. The important thing is to make it clear what is free and why you might want to pay.

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