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Game of Thrones is the first 'free-to-play' TV show, and gaming is racing to catch up

Game of Thrones is the first free to play TV show and gaming is racing to catch up Polygon


HBO isn't a media company, it's a very profitable part of Time Warner Inc. and that company has its fingers in everything. This is why Game of Thrones will never be sold as a subscription on iTunes as it airs, and why HBO won't be offered by its own until the company has a metaphorical knife to its throat. The current model is way too effective, and it allows them to ignore piracy to the point of winning points by joking about it in public.

You can have a company that offers HBO by itself, or you can have a company that is fine with piracy as long as the show's cultural relevance remains high. You can't have both. The money is simply too good in the current model for anything to change, and the high levels of piracy don't equal lost subscriptions in a way that matters to Time Warner's bottom line.

It's an interesting business, and there are many more details to possibly discuss, but let's look at what this teaches us about video games.


Time Warner Inc. has created an ecosystem where piracy doesn't matter, or even helps their bottom line if you look at the big picture of cultural importance. We see the gaming industry trying different strategies to remove piracy from the equation in similar ways, and they've been remarkably effective.


This is what HBO, or really Time Warner, has learned, although the lack of single-show purchasing options is somewhat consumer hostile. Everyone who pays for, or downloads, Game of Thrones adds value to the property. Piracy doesn't harm the business of selling bundled cable, and it helps raise the value of licensing fees for the property or the content. You're helping HBO simply by providing a set of eyes and an often vocal mouth, and it knows it.

You have to get rid of terms like "free-to-play" or "always online" when you apply that same thinking to games. The models are merely delivery strategies, the ultimately goal is a game that gains value when people interact with it, even if they don't pay. Once you see things through that lens, "odd" decisions like the lack of a single-player campaigns begin to make sense.

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In an age of millions of entertainment choices, mindshare is most important.

Anything that promotes Game of Thrones is good.

The makers of Candy Crush, Clash of Clans, and Angry Birds understand this too.

And Disney understood it when they put Frozen's "Let It Go" scene on YouTube.

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