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Sold, then Free, then Dead: Why?

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I was watching the Game Dungeon episode on the Division yesterday, and something Ross said got me thinking. Then I started thinking about the "Games as a Service" is FRAUD video, and GDs like Battleforge and The Secret World (Relavent timestamps embedded in the links. Yeah, I am one of those weirdos who watches old AF videos with some frequency). (EDIT also I removed the secret world link, but it'll come up later in this essay)

I'm pretty sure I see a pattern here, and I think I see why.


1. Company makes a game.

2. Company sets up that game to depend on a central server.

3. Company starts selling that game for money.
4. Company starts giving that same game away for free.

5. Company shuts down the central server, killing the game.


I have begun to wonder, do companies give games away for free in order to avoid legal liabilities after shutting the game down? This feels tricky and lovecraftian, in the way that only modern laws can be, but follow me here.


If they didn't sell you a product but merely let you experience it and then they shut it down at a later time, they didn't steal from you. They didn't sell you a product for money and then destroy it after the point of sale. They could frame it like a free art show - at some point the exhibit has to close. As a "free service to the public", they don't make enough money to pay for the rent to keep those paintings up all the time! This was just a temporary thing! Ross even even agrees* with this in his Fraud video, because it might hurt creativity. "People will want to experiment with concepts and throw bad experiments out sometimes."


(I mean, Flash was a heartbreaking end for me - yes I know it had security problems, but I still don't understand why that couldn't be fixed - but indeed, all of those games that died were not games that were *sold* to me. Still, it was like watching a company bulldoze a historic area of the internet to make room for a parking lot (this was caused by Chrome, right? I remember Chrome being part of that story). Homestar Runner, Weebls Stuff, Newgrounds, Go To Hell, Salad Fingers, and the works of Adam Phillips, they all hold a place in my heart. A colorful, weird, unsettlingly creepy place in my heart ...What was I talking about? Oh yeah.)


(*Now Ross did add the qualifier of it being *truly* free. Free to play games let you buy collectables or items to improve the game. Maybe an art show might sell you some kind of special title while you're there. Or a better example, a concert. We buy "seats" at a concert, and some seats are better than others. I've actually been to a few concerts where a lot of people can listen for free, and even watch the concert for free, but if you want the better seats you have to pay up. But you don't get to pick up that seat and take it with you out of the concert. I bet companies would probably be able to be like "you wanna keep your specially purchased sword from the Free to Play game? well here - we included the 3d model and code in this email. Enjoy your sword." Don't get me wrong, I wanna preserve games, I just think Free to Play, Free to Win, and "Freemium" games will be a much bigger battle, like streaming only games.)


EDIT: sorry for swapping the above two sections around, I think they have better flow this way


Now, what if a game company decides to start making a game free to play? Nothing illegal or even immoral about that (assuming they've paid their workers well enough, and there aren't contracts regarding percentages of revenue based on copyrighted content that's included in it. Which is probably another thing to look into on this... (EDIT: Like, can underpaid employees sue their employer for not selling the product they make at a higher price?)). I mean, if you have a department store selling wool socks all winter long, you make decent money. When spring hits, you might have some wool socks left that are harder to get rid of at full price. You wouldn't punish a store for selling socks at 50% off, would you? 75%? That could be a nice deal for people who couldn't afford them before! And they get out of your store and stop cluttering your shelves! Granted, videogames are code, but your servers take up space! (which makes me wonder if *selling* the server software prior to a game shutdown is a solution companies, gamers, and the law could agree to, but that would probably have a host of other issues).


I'm getting way off track here. So a 75% off sale is perfectly legal! What about 100% off? They're just doing this out of the goodness of their heart. We made enough money off of the paying customers. You couldn't sue because you purchased socks during the winter, and then in springtime found out you could have saved money by waiting, could you? So you can't sue us for giving away to someone else something that you bought for like, 60 bucks last year, right?


This is my thinking. They give away the game, and maybe wait until they have enough customers to make the argument that it was mostly a given-away game. Maybe the paying customers are compared legally to something like a kickstarter campaign, or early access, like front-row concert tickets. Or maybe they give away the game to hurt the profits just enough to show that the game was a statistically significant loss, or was about to become a loss (nevermind that it going out for free was an intentional decision). I mean, no incoming profits are certainly lower than whatever it costs to keep a server running. Then they shut down the game, claiming either that it was a free service (for the most part) or costing more money than it was making (because of their own decisions). Heck, that could even happen with significant markdowns, even if they said the game would run *forever* (EDIT: Hmmm, what could that be?).


They sell the game at first to make a profit, then give it away for free later in order to allow them more legal freedom to kill it.

They operate like a business for a while, have a 100% off sale, and then claim they're going out of business or were never a business in the first place (EDIT: It sounds like a Looney Toons kind of legal practice to me, but laws allow for all kinds of crazy loopholes if you're ambitious enough).


Again, I want to preserve games. I think they're on the hook for at least the copies of the game that they sold. I'm just trying to put myself in their heads so I can understand why they do this. Hey, maybe it's a genuinely positive practice to get games out for free - maybe the artists and creators find out about a planned shutdown date, and *insist* on it's free release so they can reach as many people as possible before the company throws the game in a vault like Disney or burns it at the stake/buries it in the desert like E.T.. I don't know though, I more think it's a malicious decision on the company's part.


I wonder if they could still get into legal trouble for doing this, especially if they've done this more than once. Like, these excuses are to protect them from liability at multiple points in the progression of this practice - when they're giving it away for free, it's just a sale, then when they're killing the game, they weren't making any money, or most of the customers didn't pay - but if they've done this in the past, you could make a convincing case that it's a pattern of behavior. Plus, you could also probably really mess up this excuse by people boycotting a free to play game, with a court saying “Yes, you sold the game, and then you gave it away for free. But nobody played it for free, all of the customers were paying ones. Thus all of the customers are entitled to a working game.”


I don't know. What are your thoughts? My thinking is that maybe courts can't handle it, because they tend to only deal with crimes long after they happen, and the excuses might be working so far. But regulatory agencies in governments could probably set a policy that would make this impossible, because they don't have to wait for a crime to happen, or worry as much about the logic of the regulations. So long as it's not unconstitutional or against the primary governing principles of the country or counter to the administration in power at the time, regulatory agencies can do what they want.


Anyway, sorry for the rant, I get chatty after caffeine. And as a wise man (several of them in fact**) once said, "if I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."

Lemme know your thoughts.

Best Wishes,



**John Green, Churchill, Pascal, Thoreau, Cicero... Probably alot of others

Edited by jackinthebox (see edit history)

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On 12/14/2022 at 10:09 PM, jackinthebox said:

Best Wishes,



**John Green, Churchill, Pascal, Thoreau, Cicero... Probably alot of others


DAAAMN, now I got to read it all over again in john green's voice

Burn the World!

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