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Freeware as a PR Strategy

Posted At: October 27, 2008
by Jacob Summers

“Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed.”

–C.S. Lewis

Making a profit, turning a dime and bringing home the bacon are not concepts without merit—many of us desire to be rich, powerful, influential and famous in some form or another.  As such, businesses and individuals seek to do so through creation of a product or service that has a very real value to its consumers—media, clothing, food, social aid – and usually do a job that merits the pay at the end of the day.  But at some point, in order to attain most or all of the above stated desires, and not just earn an income, we must compromise, change and be willing to sacrifice for future gain. Few have put it better than Charles Dubois:

“The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.”

My point is not a moral tirade, though it can be taken that way.  My point is not a command, though it should be.  My point is not a common practice… though it is becoming that way.

What my point is… is a suggestion for the future—because some companies are already evolving and are enjoying the fruits of their labors while the rest of us do things the way we always have.  What I refer to is the up and coming new concept of freeware and the emphasis on customer service.

For now, I will use examples taken from the video gaming industry.

Here, some companies, after years of creating games and selling them to consumers for exorbitant costs, are now giving them away.  Perfecting the practice of key-coding (a code that must be entered during game installation to finish installing the product), some are now simply providing the file to those who register on their site and create a user name.  After years of profits, the companies now look to the consumers and hand over their prodigy with trust and hope—hope that customers will, in fact, buy it and love it.

This has nothing to do with the economy, mind you… just trust.  Vendors are now beginning to follow the business model recent recording artists have followed.  These practices involve giving the product away, and depending on the hype it will generate to bring profit back in—and looking for main streams of revenue elsewhere.

Recording artists now let their songs go downloaded free of charge, which consequently cuts production costs, and instead earn their income through concerts.

Not all venues can practice this.  But video gaming company Three Rings, under the valiant direction of CEO Daniel James, has blazed a trail for the video gaming industry.

In article recently published to Penny-Arcade, a gamer—based blog and Web comic Web site, James puts it best:

“The business model of putting bits in a box and charging to experience said tasty bits is forever broken. Furthermore, to prevent the copying of bits is futile and ultimately destructive to the goal of any modern digital business, which is to conscript enthusiastic ‘users’, and from them, customers.”

Here, James is clearly referring to the arbitrarily high costs of video game software that prohibits the loyal gamers from being bigger fans.  He goes on to explain what motivates this impetus for change.

“Our mission at Three Rings is to create an emotional connection with players. We want to become one of the ten places you go on the interwebs. We want to be on your Chrome start page. We want you to dream of puzzley pieces and Pirates (or Zombies). If some folks would like to give us some money, that’d be great too.”

At first, this practice may sound crazy.  Our economics model here in the U.S. is that of capitalism, with the success of one company built off strategic practices and the failures of other companies—and as such, our PR efforts, while benevolent, are focused competitively.

However, this change in economic policy may also spell a radical new style of PR effort, similar to the methods required with a nonprofit organization—all focus to the customer and little focus to the competition—because when the product offered is free and the emphasis is on getting the customer just what they need out of this product… the competition is suddenly much less… competitive.

James had this to say:

“The cheddary ‘Free to Play’ is not just a cheesy marketing slogan, but a shift in assumptions; it costs approaching nothing to give away some bits, or let people play Puzzle Pirates for free. Every player, free or paid, adds value to the community and excitement for other players. Free players are the content, context and society that encourages a small fraction of the audience to willingly pay more than enough to subsidize the rest.

“‘Not fair’, the vendor of music or packaged software cries. Well, tough… Nobody added your business to the list of protected species, despite what your lobbyists and lawyers say. Find a business model that’s actually appropriate to the 21st century, and perhaps scale back your expectations of vast profits accordingly (oh, and fire some lawyers and lobbyists, too, please). For example, as some musicians have done by returning to live performance as their main source of revenue.”

James is right – and as we continue to progress our PR tactics into the 21st century, freeware and its implications for profit must figure in.

External Sites:
Three Rings

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