Dragon’s Crown, Vanillaware’s side-scrolling beat em up just recently got an update which includes a level cap bump (from 99 to 255) and a new randomly generated dungeon to explore. The best part about all of this? It’s completely free. Free content updates are getting less and less common over the years. Some developers still see the benefit in keeping players hooked through free content but many more feel that paid DLC is the best way to support their games. This is completely understandable right? I mean labour isn’t free and neither is bandwidth. So why do developers release content for free?
There are actually multiple reasons. One of which is raising awareness of their game and their studio. Saints Row IV released the tongue in cheek DLC GAT V for free on the same day that Grand Theft Auto V was released. Since it was free people felt obliged to talk about it and many websites reported on the DLC.
Then there’s the issue of building a positive image of your company, something that both Valve and CD Projekt both excel at. Valve turned one of their major game releases, Team Fortress 2 into a free to play game and even before doing so they released regular major content patches for free. Whereas CD Projekt Red released a content pack comparable to an expansion pack for the flagship product The Witcher 2. GoG.com also gives away DRM free games for free frequently to keep people using their store.
Then there’s the matter of building a community, Sony Computer Entertainment pushed out Soul Sacrifice on the Vita in hopes to sell more hardware which worked to some degree (it pulled me in at least). However the continued support of Soul Sacrifice is some of the best support provided by a developer in a long time, with a bunch of quests, bosses and spells being released throughout its life span in hopes of keeping the online service used.
When a community around a game gets to a certain point it attains a sort of gravity pulling in more and more players over time. The best examples of this is the Call of Duty franchise or the Monster Hunter franchise. Both have enormous communities in their respective countries and both sell extremely well.
Even though free content releases are always calculated in a way to make money it doesn’t mean that people should boycott free stuff. After all, it costs you nothing. Just try to keep in mind that nothing is done without reason in the business world, especially when it comes to free content and services.