Free to play is the best DRM ever

So, this morning while I was in the shower doing my deep thinking,


I realized something... the free to play model is the greatest DRM solution of all time. And not only for the publishers/rightsholders, but for players as well. And it's because it plays on our thoughts and emotions, not our computers.

First and foremost, let's realize that free to play is a model that only really works for multiplayer games. If it were for single player games, that's just free. And no one makes any money at free. With multiplayer games what you are buying is not a GAME, per se, but a service. Ask Microsoft. The reason XBL makes so much money is because people need to pay the fee to use the service. Games are simply a part of that service. One of many. But I digress.

Free to play is a model for multiplayer games. AS such, piracy is a slightly different matter than for single player games. With SP games, the GAME is everything. There are no other products, so if someone pirates the game, they have taken everything. But for multiplayer games, there's more to be had... there's TIME. See, with a SP game, they don't provide time. On a MP game they do via the service. So if you steal the game, you only have a part of the product. Not only that, you have the SMALLEST part of the product. To get the rest of the product, you need to invest time and energy into online interactions, and in the case of games like tribes, that time means something tangible in the game.

And that's where f2p gets you.

The game is not the product. The TIME is not the product. Your interactions with other players online IS the product and you can't pirate that. With the various COD games, you get flashy guns and trophy insignia etc to show off that enhance these interactions. These represent accomplishments of some sort. e-peen, if you will.

Free to play takes that to the next level... while in other games you have to EARN the better trophies (and you can in f2p games of any decent quality), in free to play games, they'll do what the piracy houses and other h@XX0|2z used to do: they will sell you the bigger penis. Instead of a black market for this stuff, they BECOME the market. Instead of the hackers offering free access to the game via keys, cracks etc, the companies give you all that up front, no charge. There doesn't need to be copy protection, because I think the devs would LOVE for you to give away copies. The portion of the game that is ACTUALLY free, whether the whole or only part, is the gateway drug.


Instead of forcing you to get your hit from a shady back alley dealer, they are providing the drug straight to you, at similar prices and under a more secure environment. You WANT to get the hit from them. The drug is provided by the pharmaceutical company at competitive prices.

Microtransactions. The best part. If the f2p model is what brings you in, it's the microtransactions that get you to stay. The best f2p games (among which I count TF2, Tribes Ascend and LoL) allow you to earn everything. BUT, they only do so if you invest JUST the right amount of time that it is inconvenient. Sure, you can eventually earn or buy that awesome Pyro hat, but if you spend $1, you can get it NOW. 5 hours of game time or $1? Shoot, $5 of my time, according to my employer, is worth nearly $1000. That hat is worth WAY more than $1!

So says every player that spends $1. And while these transactions pay the bills, they also do something to YOU. YOU become invested in a very real way. Now, you don't just have TIME and energy invested into that game, you have MONEY. And now you feel like you are a part of the game, and in many players, cheating after paying is kind of like sleeping with your sister. Sure, you may get a pretty decent pay off (she IS hot after all), but you just FEEL kinda icky afterwards.

So what's the point? There's no more reason to pirate. Why pirate? You're not getting anything for free that you couldn't otherwise, and the microtransactions lay on your emotions to keep you in line down the road. There's nothing left to pirate. That would be like going through trouble of installing bit torrent, searching for torrents and dealing with viruses etc while the music group provides a free download.

IN fact, free to play may be the complete antithesis of DRM. DRM strives to make it JUST difficult enough to pirate that piracy levels are decreased to (more) acceptable levels. F2P seeks to make acquisition of the real deal so easy that piracy is pointless.

(And this is why Diablo III sucks. It has to do with a complete loss of that emotional investment, and instead of poorly rehashing it, I'll point you in this direction since it's a completely different conversation. WARNING- it's intellectual, so bring your thinking caps!)

So that's my exposition. It's not new, I know, but it just struck me that, in the end, the answer to the anti-DRM movement may be the most sneaky DRM ever: a great, accessible and emotionally-invested product that makes DRM pointless because piracy is pointless.

MOAR f2p, I say. And to spark a conversation, what f2p games are you looking forward to the most?

Me? Mechwarrior Tactics.