Why was FTL: Advanced Edition free?
Subset Games, the creators of Faster Than Light, is a company that lists two employees on their website (along with a few other artists involved with FTL and their now released
upcoming Into the Breach.)
In the 80's, a major video game release with this size development team was expected...
...whereas today some of the video games in your library have credit rolls that are longer than most of the movies you watch.
Maybe you are saying, “Hey Randomsome! FTL does have an extremely long credit sequence,” but I know you are not really saying that, because you know the credits are only that long because they include the names of all of the backers who paid over $40 to the Kickstarter campaign. They had over 1,000 backers who fit that profile.
Subset was able to release Advanced Edition as a free upgrade for all FTL owners. They have a generous fan base throwing money at them, and they are missing the dozens of people that other development and production teams need to pay when additional content is produced.
An example of a big game that did not release a huge free expansion (and there are far more games that did not do this than have done it) is XCOM: Enemy Unknown. A game made by Firaxis, i.e. a big company. I want to specifically refer to the Enemy Within expansion here. Enemy Within is great. It made a great game even greater in a similar way as the new content included in FTL: Advanced Edition. It also cost you more money if you had already paid for Enemy Unknown (one exception where it was released as a free update might have been the iPad version, but I couldn’t find verification on that as quickly as I would have liked.) Firaxis is not a bad actor in this situation. They made a good product and need to be paid to sustain the production scale they employ, and those circumstances dictate the different release strategy.
Subset Games is not alone
Another game that gave away additional content was Goat Simulator. Goat Simulator’s path to creation was different than FTL’s, but it was again born from an extremely small team. Designer Armin Ibrisagic posted an article on Gamasutra at the time where he said they released additional content for free because “It’s nice.”
I am sure there are many other similar stories, as well as stories that buck the trend. I am personally less familiar with them, but Amplitude’s line of Endless games (Endless Legend, Endless Space, Dungeon of the Endless) seem to have slightly larger development teams, and are games that continually release free additional content.
There are other examples similar to Subset with FTL: Advanced Edition. Another game that has additional content released for free is Shovel Knight by Yacht Club Games. This is where an (questionably) interesting bit of psychology enters the situation. Yacht Club (another small development team) promised all of this additional content as stretch goals on their Kickstarter campaign.
Yacht Club just released the $145,000 goal in March 2018 with Specter of Torment (the $160,000 goal Body Swap was released along with the new campaign.) As of writing this, other significant goals are still awaiting their scheduled release (4 player battle mode, 3rd playable boss campaign.)
You could probably write a thesis on the difference between Yacht Club and Subset’s approach and how recipients of the extra content appreciate the two differently. I am not going to write that, but I will quickly run through what some of its themes could be. There are arguments that say meeting the expectations placed upon you is as or more satisfying for the recipient than providing something unexpected. Maybe the recipient starts to wonder what your motivation for withholding information about the final outcome was to begin with. Then again, if it is a choice between someone who always meets their obligations and someone who always meets their obligations and provides something extra, seems like no one would rationally choose the former. Anyway...
Is the answer, “pride?”
Regardless of those arguments, these developers likely just wanted to make the best products they could, and they had the means to do it by devoting additional time to development after their initial releases. Faster Than Light is an amazing game, and it was before the Advanced Edition. Now look at Subset’s Kickstarter “thank you” message:
They did not promise any additional content or free DLC or anything particularly specific. They were just proud of their work, and they wanted it to be as good as they “imagined it could be.”
Thanks for reading, and special thanks to Subset Games and Yacht Club Games for making games that are so good I spent my Saturday afternoon writing about them.
Feel free to let me know what you think. Did I get any of facts wrong and you want to yell at me? Or maybe say which developers you think go the extra mile?