As I said before, I’m a very pragmatic person when it comes to software and hardware, as they are just tools. While I can understand ethics, I find there are a number of much more important things to fight for the higher ground in (politics, environment, and even more of those, health care). In particular, when it comes to videogames, I’m very much just looking for the entertainment value. So I really don’t care whether a game is free software or not.
*If you disagree with that and find me a bad person for actually playing any proprietary game, you’re free to stop reading this entry, or even my blog entirely, now.*
Sometimes this is for the greater good anyway, given that id Software at least used to release the engine of their older games to the public, and you can actually learn from that and create something new. How many games are there, based on the Quake 3 engine that was opened up?
But at any rate, this said I think that it’s interesting to look at the strategies that proprietary software developers use to get money, as some of those can be used in the Free Software world to find the funds to work on new projects. And this includes to some point proprietary games developers.
This said, I have already written about Hustle Kings which I positively adored. a pool game, much more complex than foobillard for what it’s worth (not that I’ve been able to play any foobillard since a very long time ago, it doesn’t seem to work that well on an r700 with KMS and Compiz, let alone the older r300 I was using). It’s a pretty inexpensive game by itself, and they provided “crazy tables” expansions for free, and then a (even cheaper) snooker table extension — and I adore snooker.
Also, just like I’m quite happy to buy hardware from Free Software-friendly producers, and subsidize projects I’m relying upon and I cannot help with technique, I’m quite fine with paying for games if that means the studios that made them can make better, nicer games for me to play and be entertained.
At the same time, I don’t think that trying to spill my money with “premium content” such as avatars and themes is something that works out at all; this is done, though, by both Sony and Microsoft with their consoles. But there are people paying for that stuff, and if it works for them.. it’s just like people paying for novelty ringtones… and if somebody feels like I’m quoting some witty British author whose unfortunate departure a few years ago is still hurting us… well, it’s the case.
Anyway, last July, Sony started a subscription model for their PlayStation Network, called PlayStation Plus. While it is priced not too lower than the Microsoft subscription for XBox Live Gold, it feels less oppressive: anything that you could do before is still free, it just adds discounts, some premium content, one feature or two but more importantly, they feed you four free games each months, divided into a standard game for the PS3, one first PlayStation game, and two minis that can be played both on PS3 and PSP.
I subscripted to the option (I’m not subscribed to XBox Live), and actually I find it not too bad an idea. And it shows that they are not just dumping a whole lot of stuff on users this way; first of all, by subscribing in the first two months of offering, they added one extra bonus: Little Big Planet. The game, which I won’t go much in the details of, is still selling for whole price in Italy (€60), so it’s not a bad gift, with a one-year subscription priced at €50. But even so it’s a game that is just a start for them, as it has a huge number of “premium” download content in form of costumes for your character (slightly more decent offering than avatars, I’d say), and level creation kits. And new levels altogether!
With the basic offering for July, they also gave out a definitely-nice Wipeout HD, which I have to say, I loved, as it reminds me of the Podracer game I played as a demo sooo many times when I was a boy. What is important of this is that while the game does not have multiple download content as LBP has, it got an expansion already available in the store… and even more cleverly, they made available the extension (Wipeout HD Fury) with a discount for PlayStation Plus subscribers in August. I’m quite sure a lot of people will be getting that if they didn’t do so before already.
And this month’s main game is instead Zen Pinball. Now I got to say I was very happy with this choice, because I’m a closeted virtual pinball player. I used to play a lot of pinball games when I was younger, one I had as a MS-DOS game, at the time when copying or passing a game was just a matter of calling
DISKCOPY (in all-caps obviously, since it was DOS), and another demo I played for a veeery long time (if you couldn’t tell, i wasn’t buying so many games when I was actually playing them as a kid and boy, under Windows), was Balls of Steel … so Zen Pinball actually interested me for a while; I ever came close to buying it at some point, but dropped out of the idea, and thus I’m quite happy for their choice.
What has this in common with the other choices, though? Well there are a series of extra tables, with different, themed features, available to download for a price small enough to be interesting. So even here, even by giving away the basic game, they are making money in distributing the extra download content.
It is interesting how even Sony is moving toward a free(ish)-platform, paid-content idea, and that is not altogether a bad thing. The problem is, can we provide any similar strategy in Free Software without compromising? If so, how?