Making money in the video game business is usually a pretty simple proposition: you make a game; other people pay to play it. There may be some middlemen like producers and retailers in there, and the actual payment could be a purchase, subscription or rental, but when you boil it down, the pay-to-play model has defined the business of video games since the days of the arcade.

But the world of free-to-play browser-based Flash and Java games has largely thrown this business arrangement on its head. This is partly because it had to. People have been trained by sites like Hotmail and Google to expect web services — even good ones — to be free to use. The New York Times recently abandoned its Times Select online subscription service, possibly after realizing that people weren’t willing to pay good money for the kinds of opinions that were available for free on hundreds of blogs. Similarly, any online game site that starts charging money for content risks losing players to the myriad free alternatives.

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