The word “unfree” is often used as a synonym for “Unfree games.” It has become so overused, and so familiar, that you almost never hear it without hearing the word “free.”
But there is something in the way people use this expression that makes it utterly irreverent. It is not the idea that we are saying that games are not truly free (we have been using this term for years). Rather, it is a reminder that games are inherently a form of entertainment. They are about getting enjoyment from them and using them for something other than just entertainment. This can be anything from communication to serious stealth or strategy. And most importantly of all, we believe games offer us an opportunity to learn from and make connections with others who share our interests and values while at the same time having fun doing so.
What is an unfree game?
You likely know a game that you think is free, but in fact is not. This happens a lot in games, and it should be considered when making decisions about whether to offer a free product or not. If the product is free but you can play it once per day (or per hour) when you don’t have anything else to do, you are offering what we call an “unfree game.”
Unfree games are different from paid games or subscriptions (which become paid games when revenue-sharing deals exist), because they do not help the user by providing any value for the game only serves to distract them from playing other things. For example, if I was promising an experience of flying a fighter plane in some MMO and then offering to let me fly around freely for an hour every day, this would be considered a “free game” even though I could still buy that experience at full price. The idea of being able to play freely would only serve to serve one purpose: distracting people from playing other things that are more valuable.
So as designers, it’s important that we understand our freedom — and how much it should impact business decisions — before we dive into the world of Unfree games.
Why do people play it?
People love games. Whether it’s a top-down 3D shooter, an action-adventure RPG, or a simple card game, there’s a lot of people who enjoy playing them. But why do people play these games? It’s not just about the gameplay (which is basically about what you do in the game). It is also about the way we interact with it.
Where does this interaction come from? Why does it happen? Where do we stop and demarcate meaningful interaction from actions that don’t even move the game along? When did we decide that “it doesn’t matter if I win or lose in this game?” Even though there are things we like to do while playing video games, these things are often very different from what players actually accomplish. If we look at different forms of interaction (such as social media), instead of thinking that they are just entertainment, they are often used to achieve goals such as communication and connectivity – and these goals can have far more profound effects on us than simply winning or losing. So why do people play those games at all?
The answer may be summed up in one word: social capital. We shouldn’t focus only on winning or losing; our goal should be to create valuable relationships with others rather than gaming results alone. Social capital should be seen not as a shortcut to success but rather as a means of achieving our goals and building community through sharing and collaboration. And community can create its own value — as long as we act with integrity (and respond responsibly).
How to make social games more fun and less unfree?
Games are awesome. They are a great way to spend time with your friends, have fun, and make money. With that said, there is a common misconception that games aren’t worth making any more.
This post, by the way, was written by me in response to this recent game criticism:
What would you do to improve the unfree experience in online games? Let us know in the comments!