Time magazine (Or is it the Time website now? Do they still make magazines?) recently sat with Nintendo CEO and President Satoru Iwata for a lengthy interview, and his comments regarding free-to-play — which Nintendo appears to be ready to jump into — have been making the rounds. Specifically, Iwata says:
“I do not like to use the term ‘Free-to-play,'” says Iwata. “I have come to realize that there is a degree of insincerity to consumers with this terminology, since so-called ‘Free-to-play’ should be referred to more accurately as ‘Free-to-start.'”
And he’s right, for the most part. There are exceptions, but a lot of “free-to-play” games are little more than extended trails, which either put up a paywall that force you to continue or make the experience so onerous after a short while that you feel compelled to spend. “Free-to-start” would usually be a more accurate description.
But accuracy isn’t the point of labeling something “free-to-play” — marketing is. And as I’ve pointed out before, companies bend over backwards to label their games as free-to-play, or just plain “free,” not because they’re striving for 100% accuracy, but because they want to draw people in. Calling a game “free,” with no qualifications, sounds a heck of a lot better to the average consumer than calling something “free-to-start,” which carries the obvious additional implication that it’s free to start, but will cost you money to continue.
Sure, you and I, being experienced gamers that we are, know that “free-to-play” games aren’t really free, most of the time. But we make up a very small part of the potential market, especially once you go beyond games like MMORPGs and shooters and venture into the world of mobile and social games, which is probably where Iwata and Nintendo will be focusing their efforts. It’s nice that Iwata realizes what’s going on, but he should probably also realize that a little deception (“free-to-play”) will serve his company better than full honestly (“free-to-start”). It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is.