Why everyone should stop hating on freemium games

Why everyone should stop hating on freemium games

Gilad Bechar is the Founder & CEO of Moburst, a global mobile marketing agency helping first tier startups and brands grow their mobile business. Gilad serves as a mentor to rising startups at Microsoft Accelerator, The Technion, Tel-Aviv University, Unit 8200 and for strategic Moburst clients, and is the Academic Director of the Mobile Marketing and New-Media course at Tel-Aviv University.


Geeks are a difficult crowd to please. They know their stuff and when they don’t – they have the brains, experience and passion to investigate. When they love something they do it wholeheartedly, but when they don’t – watch out.

Lately it seems like hard-core gamers started hating freemium gaming with the heat of a thousand light-sabers, and everyone else was soon to follow. Freemium was harshly criticized on South Park and pretty much became the most negative buzz term around. But maybe, just maybe, it’s time for us to reconsider.

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Gamers will tell you that freemium ruined gaming. Before the age of mobile and social games, before analytics became the starting point and finish line to everything, games were meant to entertain.

Nostalgic gamers will claim that game designers used to have an artistic say and took pride in their product, whereas now they allow users to control the process almost entirely. Nowadays, they’ll say, it’s all about creating a frustrating and addictive psychological loop to get users to open their wallet.

Pretty bad, huh? Only it didn’t start with freemium at all. Reports on the addictive nature of video games go back to long before the only mobile game available was Snake. Hard-core gamers have been defending games like WOW from the very same accusations they now make, regarding the game’s addictive nature and its dramatic impact on players’ lives.

Gaming is a business and has been working like one since day one. We can safely assume that no game has ever become addictive by accident. We know for a fact that companies have been hiring psychologists to help create an addictive experience long before touchscreen was the standard. Giving free trials to gamers was a common business tactic when phones were still far from being smart.

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What has changed is mostly the scope and transparency level of things. Before the age of mobile, gamers were a smaller target group which was not part of the mainstream. Now that everyone is a gamer to some extent, we tend to notice and care more about what these hobbies are doing to us.

That is actually a great thing, since a bigger clientele is impossible to ignore, as already evident in the field. Apple changing the “free” category to “get” and opening a new “pay once and play” section is the result of a massive crowd that never existed before freemium.

We now hear a lot more about what goes on in the backstage of the gaming industry and are more aware, and therefore more protected, than ever.

Are mobile games less impressive than video games? Maybe, maybe not. It all really depends on the game. But even if not –  that isn’t necessarily the result of an industry that puts less emphasis on creating a great product, but rather an indication of where this young industry is at the moment.

We are well on our way to setting a new standard of amazingly designed mobile games, and with the endless pool of possibilities mobile has to offer – including location-based games and hybrid games combining physical aspects – the mobile gaming experience will soon put all others to shame.

Another widespread accusation made against mobile games has to do with the frequent display of commercials. But can we really think of an entertainment platform that does not include any form of advertising?

More importantly, there is a transformation in mobile games advertising, as commercials become more captivating and creative, and we can expect people to be more open to interesting and stimulating commercial content. We should focus less on getting rid of commercials, and instead demand that they become a form of entertainment on their own.

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While some might say that free games hurt indie developers, who find it hard to compete with big companies that enjoy a solid financial backing, results prove otherwise. Indie sections are a huge hit on every appstore and serious gamers seek (and find!) unique games, thus encouraging developers to produce mobile works of art.

But the most amazing thing freemium games have done is create a whole new segment of casual gamers. Opening the industry to so many new customers has enriched not only the bank account of many developers, but also the creative range. And perhaps that is what the gaming community finds so disturbing: having to share a previously unique status with the rest of us.

There are a number of ways to make great freemium games and turn a profit without making players feel manipulated and abused. With users becoming more sophisticated by the minute, game designers are forced to opt for these options and bring the entire industry to a calmer, more productive place.

But in the meantime, let’s not hold freemium games responsible for the industry’s growing pains. Don’t hate the players but also, don’t hate the game.

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Image credits: Shutterstock, PlayStation

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