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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.

Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.


  1. Free to play games were always named terribly. The problem lies in the fact that it’s pretty hard to label a “free to play” game properly without writing an essay.

    As example, League of Legends:

    A free to download online multiplayer game with no account creation costs or subscription fees that includes a dual currency system that will take forever to unlock content without opening your wallet.

    Not so sure that can be summed up properly in a few words.

  2. I would say that the ‘free to play name’ eroded itself long ago by instituting insane grind and the good old XP boosters. Games like FlyFF, you know the ones..

    And then we have the modern day awful F2P games that prefer to horribly gimp people unless they pay or grind an insane amount a la SWTOR (and games like it).

    No, I would say the ‘free to play name’ has been gradually harming itself over the years. That’s why you see so many people screaming from the hilltops when games like Rift or TERA change the formula on F2P models (personally I have no comment on this).

    • Of course this is not to say Pay-to-play is superior. This is not what I am trying to convey.

      Rather, I’m making the point that the ‘free to play name’ is more often hurt than helped by the many, many releases we see in said category. For every GOOD F2P game out there, we’ll easily see dozens that are mediocre or worse. For every whale, there is a leech on the belly.

  3. Can you be a little bit more professional and not do this.

    “What’s more likely in this case is that Apple is simply covering its ass from a legal standpoint,”

    Other then that, I also don’t think the PC world will go away from using the “free to play” title. Everyone have a different version of free to play and there is no one “ideal” of free to play.

    Although there aren’t cases (that I’ve known of) where someone has overspend on PC free to play titles, you have to think of it from Apple standpoint. Unless you’re part of the PC gaming community or PC community at all, to most people, games are just games, and I think apple see games as just in a general aspect.

    Also take into consideration that free to play is still a somewhat new category, so what Apple did was a strategic move.


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