Free-to-play games are all the rage these days. Many people while away their days playing Angry Birds, or Words with Friends before going home to watch Monday Night Football. Nerds — and, increasingly, “normal people” — do the exact same thing, except instead of watching football, we play games like Super Monday Night Combat. This summer, the remarkable viability of the free-to-play business model gained extra attention when Forbes reported that the most-played PC game in the world is now a free-to-play game called League of Legends. For those of you struggling to understand the profitability part, just take a look at League of Legends character Teemo (pictured left). I mean, seriously, who can resist purchasing all the adorable “skins” for him?! (Clearly, not me.)
Nevertheless, the business world of free-to-play gaming is not without its dark, seedy underbelly, where even the cute and cuddly characters are forced to work in digital sweatshops and sell virtual drugs on simulated street corners just to make ends meet. Well, ok, maybe it’s not thatextreme. But as a recent (and bitter) dispute between game makers Zynga and Kixeye demonstrates, the gaming business can be just as ugly (and fascinating) as some of the game battles themselves.