There are no more “free” games on the App Store any more.
Now, “free,” “free-to-play,” “freemium,” or whatever-you-want-to-call-them games are still there, but they’re not labeled as such. Instead, the button to download them is labeled “Get.” As detailed on TechCrunch, this comes in the wake of pressure from the European Commission, which has been cracking down on so-called “free” games that can carry a heavy (and confusing) price tag, something we’ve discussed previously.
The word “free” is very powerful. That’s why companies use it so much. It took something resembling legal pressure, and negative stories like this, to get Apple to change how it lists its games. Could there ever be a similar re-labeling of “free” games that aren’t tied to the App Store?
Developers of “free” apps can still market and advertise them any way they want, of course, and they’re not likely to change that any time soon. But the App Store is where most people learn of these games and where they’re typically downloaded from, giving Apple the lion’s share of the power to force this kind of rethinking.
(Image Courtesy of Think Gaming)
That’s not quite the case with, say, PC free-to-play games. While distribution platforms like Steam are huge, many high-profile games maintain a presence outside of Steam. Even if Valve decided to re-label all its F2P offerings, you’d still see them marketed as “free” on the developers’ websites and social media outlets.
But would that still have an effect? Would changing the Steam free-to-play section to some other label make things better? I doubt it. And Valve itself might be hesitant to make the change. If Perfect World labels Neverwinter as “free” on its website and on Arc but it’s got some other title that doesn’t include the word “free” on Steam, will that make people shy away from the Steam version, thinking it’s not free – thereby costing Valve income?
What’s more likely in this case is that Apple is simply covering its ass from a legal standpoint, that if someone overspends on a “free” game, they’re less likely to blame the App Store for it. I’m not aware of any major legal incidents that have occurred because someone spent too much on a F2P game they got off Steam or any other PC gaming distribution platform, and it would probably be easier for those platforms to deflect criticism to the game’s developers, in any case.
“Free-to-play” as a title probably isn’t going anywhere any time soon. It can have its benefits – heck, it’s why this website exists – but also its downsides. While Apple’s actions have some merit, I don’t think that PC gaming as a whole will follow suit. The money trail is a little too long, and, for all their faults, even “bad” PC F2P games tend to be of somewhat higher quality and are a little harder to exploit than the worst of the bottom-dwelling mobile games.