Freemium or Free Trial? Why the Word for “Free” Matters

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It’s fair to say that “free” is a bit of an overused word these days, one usually associated with small print and hidden terms and conditions.

Even things like state lotteries often come with the proviso that the winner’s identity will be published for all to gawk at. For retailers, software companies, streaming services, and everything in between, this can mean that the greatest free gifts fall on deaf ears.



The problem is that “free” can mean lots of things depending on how it’s qualified. For instance, a demo, such as those offered by video game companies and some casinos, is generally a time or turn-limited experience that expires rather quickly. In the former case, demos are slowly becoming popular again after dying out for a time. Many of the recent Resident Evil titles came with a preceding demo, for example.

For casinos, which exist in a complex landscape of operators, games, and developers numbering in the hundreds, demo games can help newcomers get acquainted with a product before signing up. The Slots of Vegas website gives players the option to play all of its games, from slots to blackjack, via an “Instant Play” button. Visitors can then choose if they want to then opt for a slots real money experience.

This kind of thing is usually self-explanatory. Unfortunately, for the demo’s creator, there are risks involved, as players can just as easily be turned off by a quick peek as they are to look for more of the same. This is arguably why demos disappeared from video gaming and review embargos started to become a thing. Anybody who got to look under the hood too early might have seen what a mess things were underneath.



Free may also be described in terms like freemium, shareware, freeware, and/or a free trial, which differs from a demo in the length of time that it’s available (usually a week or a month). The middle two words, shareware and freeware, are a relic of the early internet and don’t crop up quite as often in the new decade. In any case, they refer to something shared with conditions (i.e. a free trial) or entirely free, respectively.

The major complication in the world of free stuff is freemium. Freemium is something that’s tolerated and despised in equal measure, largely because the “free” part means that users are given access to a service gratis – but all the fancy stuff comes at a cost. The obvious example of this kind of payment structure is the cash shop in mobile and online gaming, including MMOs like World of Warcraft.

What’s interesting is that all these different words for free have individual uses in marketing and customer acquisition. For instance, free trials are more appropriate for complex software like the Adobe suite, as they give users more time to get to grips with its functionality. Conversely, a 30-day free trial of a video game or a streaming service is too long, giving the recipient a chance to exhaust all the content on offer.

Overall, “free” can mean all sorts of different things – but there’s usually a catch involved somewhere.

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