The lights are on
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Epic announced a new Unreal Tournament game, and it seems too good to be true. The company release it free for Windows, Mac and Linux. The community can help with development, which will be live-streamed over Twitch. Epic will also sponsor an official marketplace where users can use the game's source code to create and sell mods. Epic makes its money from taking a cut of the mod sales.
For PC gamers, this sounds incredible. Unreal Tournament stands as one of PC gaming's most venerated franchises. It's a shooter with rocket launchers and speed-running and zero gravity and if you stop to think you're already dead. Getting a new entry in an insanely fun series like UT, for free, is like Christmas come early.
The most interesting part of the new Unreal Tournament is its monetization scheme. Epic is literally giving away the base game in the hopes that it'll make its money back on selling mods. You get the entire core experience, free of charge. It's a bold move.
What makes a developer make a game this way? Why not go the traditional route, sell it for $60, and hope you'll make some cash?
Now, you won't ever hear anyone from Epic use the word "piracy" as a reason for making Unreal Tournament free. They'll cite the community and reaching a wider audience as reasons. Those are valid reasons. But they aren't the real one.
The real reason why Epic is making Unreal Tournament free is the same reason why Dota 2 and League of Legends make so much money. They are the vanguard of the post-piracy world of PC gaming.
Let's back up for a second. Piracy runs rampant in PC gaming. I can go to The Pirate Bay right now and download almost any publicly released PC game. Many players do exactly that.
"The amount of people who pirate PC games is astounding," wrote Robert Bowling when he worked for Infinity Ward.
You know, the guys who made this franchise.
Former Epic designer Cliff Bleszinski cited technical expertise as the main problem behind piracy.
"The person who is savvy enough... to upgrade their video card is a person who is savvy enough to know bit torrent," Bleszinski said.
So how do you sell games to a group of people who know your work will be cracked within a day? Leave them nothing to crack.
Look at Team Fortress 2, one of the most popular games on Steam. It's free to play. You can download and play the entire base game without paying a cent. You can buy some stuff to stack items and get new hats, but that's about it.
Look at Dota 2, a title that pulls in 700,000 players daily. Free to play. You get the base game free of charge. Every hero is free. Valve charges only for the hats. League of Legends uses a similar model that also restricts heroes.
After years of warnings about how piracy was hurting PC gaming, now we see the results. This is what happens when gamers can (and do) pirate everything. The industry adapts. You can't pirate what's free.
Unreal Tournament, Dota 2 and League of Legends fascinate me. They represent What's Next in PC gaming- free games, great experiences, and microtransactions everywhere.
The model sits easy with me. I like playing games for free. If developers want to give away the base game and make money off extra content like skins and mods, great. I get a free game, publishers hook players into their world, and developers make money.
Surely that's better than losing a sale entirely.
What do you think? Is free and free-to-play a good model for the future of games?