Free Games And Software: The Promises And The Pitfalls

In both games and application software we are constantly bombarded with terms like "Free To Play," "Free Download," "Free for Non-Commercial Use," Free, Free, Free. But is all this "free" stuff actually free, or is there a price to pay somewhere along the line?

Free software has always been a hot topic since the advent of the Open Source Initiative, started back in 1998 after Netscape released the source code for their popular browser, the Navigator. Since then, we have seen varying levels of free software, but is it always in our best interests?

The gaming industry jumped whole hearted into the Free To Play (F2P) scene. What a great way to get people to play your game by offering it for the low, low price of nothing. While gamers rejoiced, the reality is that the developers and publishers still need a revenue stream to make money in order to stay in business. Enter micro-transactions. Now you can still play for free and only need to cough up a little cash if you want the extras. The problem is that the extras can range from simple aesthetic items which do not affect game play, to things you need to compete in the game successfully. F2P, in many cases took a wrong turn to P2W (Pay To Win), and occasionally that "little bit of cash" turns into hundreds or thousands of dollars. In some cases players are sucked into the game with a promise of "free," before they know all the details and are left with a bad taste in their mouth from the whole experience.

The commercial application developers saw a need to get their product into the hands of the general public in a manner that would be superior to a non-interactive demo. Thus was born trial versions. These are great! … sometimes. Trial versions can range from the full product that has a expiration date for use to completely crippled versions that you can use to your hearts delight as long as you don't want to do anything really useful. The other caveat of trial versions is that many come with a lot of extra garbage (like browser toolbars and the likes). Even though they are almost universally set up to be optional, they are many times set to download and install by default. If you miss the checkbox, you get the unneeded, and at times obnoxious, software.

The open source people stayed true to their roots and open source software is free for the taking, including the source code in the event you want to modify the program to fit your needs, given you have the ability to do so. While this would seem to be the holy grail of software consumption, it often leaves a bit to be desired. Open source projects rely on the goodwill of volunteers to continue to update and maintain the code-base for such projects. Many extremely good projects have fallen by the wayside as the volunteers move on to other projects or just get involved in their daily lives and have no more time to contribute. This leaves anyone who is using the software for any type of work related implementation in a bit of a lurch.

It is not my intent in this short editorial to give a complete history or an in-depth discussion on the merits, or lack of merit, of free software or games, nor is my intent to sour the thoughts of people who would like to use these programs. I just want to give you a "heads up" when it comes to these types of products so that you are not caught unaware of some of the pitfalls you may encounter, and to be aware that you may at times be getting more than you bargain for if you do not carefully watch the installation. As always, the rule of thumb is "Do Your Homework."

While not my usual type of light hearted editorial, sometime it's good to remind people to always keep a close eye on what they are getting themselves into to prevent weeping and gnashing of teeth in the future. On a side note, I'm still selling WoW gold at low, low prices and you get three free browser toolbars with every purchase.

Enjoy your Friday evening.