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Why I Want To Make Free Games

I'm Henry. I made the game Spaceteam. I want to keep making free games, and this is why...

[This post is taken from a recent update to my Kickstarter campaignThe text is mostly a transcript of the video, with a couple of additional comments at the end...]

Hi, I’m Henry. I made the game Spaceteam. I want to keep making free games, and this is why:

Most of the games you can buy on your phone these days cost only 99 cents. And it looks like PC games are starting to head that way too.

This price does not in any way reflect the actual time and effort it takes to make a game. Some of these games are made by one person in a few weeks, but others take a team of people months or years to build.

In order to survive you either have to a huge advertising budget, or, you have to hope that somehow your game becomes a viral mega-hit. You can’t predict it, and you certainly can't rely on it. This system is broken.

Then we have so-called "free-to-play" games. Many of these claim to be free but actually require you to spend money on energy or coins to keep playing, sometimes sacrificing the actual game design in the process. They often use exploitative techniques and this brings up troubling questions of addiction. This system is broken.

You can try to survive using advertising, but ads distract you from the game, they take up part of the screen, you click on them by accident, and they’re not related to the experience of the game. You need thousands of people to see them in order to make money at all, and that money is coming from a third-party with no connection to the creator or the player. This system is broken.

Now let's say I get lucky, and manage to sell enough games to support myself. Some people will buy my game, play it once, and then delete it, never touching it again. I still have their money, but there’s no connection there, they don’t know who I am, or what I’m doing with that money, and they probably don’t care. Even when it works, I think the system could be better.

So what’s the alternative?

Well, there are many potential solutions, but the one I’m trying now is crowd-funding.

First, it’s a pay-what-you-can model, which makes a lot more sense to me. Some people are happy to pay more than that ubiquitous $1 price-tag. Everyone’s situation is different.

It’s also more than just an impulse purchase. You're making an investment, in a real person, because you believe in what they’re doing.

And finally, if the games themselves are free there’s no need to worry about clones or copy-protection or piracy. In fact it makes sense to share the games as widely as possible and to encourage others to copy them and share them as well. After all, digital games are essentially free to distribute anyway so all these artificial restrictions we’ve built up will continue to cause problems in the future.

I’m not trying to sell a product with my campaign, I’m trying to sell a vision.

In this vision, creators & artists are free to experiment, to innovate, and to share their creations with everyone, without worrying about how to pay rent.

Products are great, but they’re not as important as people. We need to help each other and create amazing new things by working together… as a spaceteam.

That's why I want my games to be free.

If this philosophy sounds intriguing to you, then please share the campaign as widely as you can. These broken systems affect all of us, and I can’t change them by myself. I need your help. And I’d love to hear what you think about all of this, so please join me in the forum or on Twitter and let’s talk about how we can make it happen.

Space out!

- Henry Smith (aka Captain Spaceteam)

Addendum #1: Someone mentioned that this doesn't address the problem of copyright and clones, and of course this is correct, clones will still get made. The difference is that you won't be losing any money if your game is free to start with. The two most notable recent cloning stories (Threes and Ridiculous Fishing) were both paid games that got hijacked by free clones. And in both these cases, the truth came out and the original authors kept their integrity and reputation.

If someone copies your idea without crediting you then that's still very uncool and it can be extremely frustrating. But if you let people copy and transform your idea and they're not jerks about it then it can lead to some wonderful new things.

I think ownership of ideas is becoming less important as more and more things are copied/hacked/remixed/repurposed, and I believe even the most original ideas are very much a product of culture/circumstance/upbringing/etc. We need to start supporting people instead of products.

Addendum #2: It's also been mentioned that this model isn't that different from F2P: give the game away for free and get supported by your biggest fans. The problem is that F2P design is full of psychological manipulation and systems that enable addictive behaviours. The people spending the most on F2P games can't necessarily afford it (see the many troubling articles on "whales"), whereas it's much more unlikely that you'll "accidentally" contribute large sums of money to a patronage campaign.

Addendum #3: Because it's a frequently asked question: yes, I do know about Patreon! I love Patreon, I already support several creators, and I'm planning to use it myself for longer-term sustainability. The reason I chose the all-or-nothing Kickstarter approach to start with is that I need to be sure that I can afford to make these games for free before committing to them. Otherwise it will put me in an awkward situation and won't be fair to the backers.

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