Free video games!

Who says there’s no free lunch? Over at the AnandTech boards, users have compiled an incredibly cool list of computer games entirely free for the downloading. And we’re not talking crappy Flash knockoffs of Space Invaders and Breakout. The list includes many great, immersive 3D games — like Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and the first two versions of Tribes. Even Rockstar Games is apparently now giving away the 3D vehicle-combat game Wild Metal, and the original, retro 2D version of Grand Theft Auto, which is still an amazingly fun game.

What’s particularly interesting is that in some of these cases, it’s a major game publisher who is giving away copies of games that are about four or five years old. Their logic, I suspect, is that a) the games are still lots of fun, but b) they’d sell for so cheap today that no stores would keep them in stock. Thus, why not c) just give ‘em away for free, which builds d) enormous goodwill amongst gamers, and also — as Vivendi clearly understands with its giveaway of the Tribes games — serves as superb free advertising for the upcoming new versions of the games. It’s brilliant: Give away the old game for free, get people hooked, and they’ll almost certainly cough up $50 when the new one comes out.

I’ve always thought that videogame companies are particularly innovative when it comes to dealing with content, copyright, piracy, and the many issues that bedevil entertainment firms in the digital age. The movie and music industries should pay closer attention to what gaming companies do.

(Thanks to El Rey for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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