One of the great things about the internet is that there’s so much out there for free. People and in some cases companies have given their time and abilities to produce any number of apps and services that are available, completely legally, for nothing. In the past I’ve played around with Linux, LibreOffice tends to be my office suite of choice, while there are any number of online services I use, very few of which actually force you to pay money up front.
The problem is that sometimes I find myself falling into the trap of expecting these things always to be without cost. And it seems that there are many others out there who do the same. Yet, somewhere, somehow, all of this has to be paid for if it is to remain sustainable.
Let’s take a relatively trivial example. For the last three months or so, I’ve been playing Farmville Country Escape on my tablet. For those unfamiliar with the game (It’s almost impossible not to be familiar with the concept) there are effectively several sets of in game currency: Coins (which are actually in a lot of ways the lowest in value), Stamps (which allow you to purchase certain “Prized Animals”), two types of “Speed Ups” (Helping Hands and Golden Gloves, that allow crops or craft items to be finished sooner), and most importantly Keys. Keys can be used to speed up waiting times, fill in for missing items or ingredients, purchase additional crafting stations or crop fields, all sorts of things – and they’re also the main thing that you can’t get a lot of without spending actual real-world currency.
This can be a real pain when it comes to some of the frequent “Events” that Zynga (the makers of the game) run, as often it seems difficult if not impossible to complete them without either the purchase of keys, specific strategies that come close to cheating, actual cheating, or quite literally spending 24 hours a day for 2-3 days completing the quests. A classic was their “Home for the Holidays” event, where you had to collect special items and make certain things for each stage; one of them required four Alpine Strawberries, which if you had two Strawberry Fields would typically require four harvests, each an hour apart – with the “reward” being more often not what you were trying to get to complete the quest. Reckon on needing to make 20 of these to complete the phase, and that’s more than three days of solid harvesting without sleeping. People were not happy…. ( http://www.zyngaplayerforums.com/showthread.php?2646214-Home-for-the-Holidays-Event-Drops ) The alternative? Spend some real money on keys and/or speed seed to hurry things up – sometimes you can complete a whole stage for keys, albeit about 2000 of them – cost maybe £30…..
Are people right to be angry? Well, it is frustrating (I say this as someone who has always done this the hard way – waiting rather than spending money), but it does somewhat miss the point. Zynga don’t charge up front for the game; but they have invested considerable amounts of money in developing and running it. It has to pay somehow…. There’s a limited amount of in-game advertising which you can’t imagine covers much of the cost, so the big contributor is probably people spending money to buy keys. If it’s possible to complete the events or gain keys without being too frustrating/time consuming, who will pay good money for them?
This is the problem of the Freemium Model. People get something for free, and have a tendency to think that they should get everything for free. But the problem is not Freemium in itself – it’s the feeling of entitlement that so many then have.
In some ways it feels like the whole Internet is sometimes struggling to work out a business model that will allow it to survive, and it can’t go on forever offering content and services without there being some income somewhere. Facebook doesn’t charge for its services – so it has to be paid for through advertising. Evernote reserves some of its features and upload limits for those who are prepared to pay for it. Some Newspapers erect a paywall. And you can probably find plenty of people who will react angrily to that, and move onto the next free service.
Ironically given the content, this post was originally on the Evernote-linked blogging platform postach.io – which, after a few days of use by me, announced that it was going premium only; as I don’t think my blog would reach the point of justifying the investment, I decided to resurrect this one… though I’m not going to get angry about it. Postach.io looks to be a good service but blogging isn’t essential enough to me to pay them to do it. But I can understand why they’re asking people to do it.
In short, we have to move away from this culture of entitlement, and recognise that, ultimately, there’s no such thing as free. You pay, somewhere, somehow. Whether that’s through having to scroll through or watch ads, pay for a fully-functional rather than limited service, pay the Licence Fee that allows the BBC to operate, or just give voluntary donations to a creator to encourage them to keep going (as my favourite podcaster, Tom Merritt has done so successfully with his Patreon – https://www.patreon.com/acedtect ) – the message is the same as it always was: even on the Internet, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.