When free games aren’t free

When free games aren’t freeI’ve had a good moan about supposedly ‘free’ games in the past, including We hate you, freemium model, but I’ve discovered a few games recently that’ve set me off again.

There’s a growing trend for games to claim that they’re free, sucking players in with a gratis download before revealing themselves to be infinitely more expensive than games that carry honest price tags up front.

Contract Killer: Zombies still stands out as one of the worst culprits. For the first hour-and-a-bit I was thoroughly convinced I’d discovered one of my favourite smartphone games to date.

Alas, after a few hours’ play, the difficulty is ramped up tenfold and the game almost demands that you fork out real cash for more powerful weaponry.

More recently I’ve enjoyed – and reviewed – the excellent Diamond Dash. However, I calculated that forking out £1.49 for 10 gold bars equates to seven whole minutes of gaming. And once those lives are done, they’re done. Developer Wooga might as well be standing next to you with its hand out the whole time.

Another gem is Pinball HD Collection. It’s ‘free’, of course, but features just one table. But fear not, there are seven tables available at 69p, and a further two (AC/DC and Slayer-themed) at £1.99 each. That’s £8.81 to unlock the lot. Pretty expensive as far as tablet/smartphone gaming goes.

Heck, even Rovio is getting in on the money-grabbing action. The spanking new Angry Birds Space is 69p for the iPhone or £1.99 for the iPad. That bags you 60 levels across two zones, however if you want to tackle the 30 Danger Zone levels, you need to fork out an additional 69p. And there’s more to come. Ka-ching.

Don’t get me wrong here; I don’t want to sound like an ungrateful git; the developers deserve to make a fair few bucks. But it’s this tendency to deceive that really gets to me. Imagine buying a car only to discover that you can only use the first three gears. Want to slip into fourth? Get your wallet out.

The way I see it, there should be two options. One: you pay a fixed price up front for the whole friggin’ game. Fair enough if the developers want to charge extra for additional content at a later date, but not at launch.

Or, and this is the option largely favoured by Android developers, we get games for free, but lovingly adorned with adverts. If you fancy getting rid of the ads, you can pay to have them removed. Easy.

Actually, for my money (pun intended), Temple Run has hit the nail on the proverbial head with option #3. It’s free up front, but the option to buy stuff is there if you fancy it.

See, in Temple Run, there’s a host of power-ups (some permanent, others temporary) that can be unlocked using the title’s in-game currency. There’s also a bunch of unlockable characters and wallpapers and junk.

Now, what you can do is: play the game for hours on end, collecting currency and saving up for the unlockables. Hours of fun. Incidentally, the unlockables are made even more desirable in the sense that they allow you to achieve a higher score, which is the aim of the game in Temple Run.

Alternatively, if you’re really lazy, you can fork over real money to buy the stuff instantly. If that’s what you’d rather do, fair enough. Importantly, you never feel like you’re at a disadvantage by not buying the extras. It’s simply a case of putting in the time.

My point? Stop all this dancing around the price, developers. Don’t sell me a house and tell me I have to pay extra to unlock the bedroom.

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JanSt / MOD  Mar. 26, 2012 at 13:08

It doesn't stop there unfortunately. I usually pay for apps I need/like. Once I bought an app, I want to be left alone. I hate it when I'm using a paid-for app and suddenly I'm interupted by a nagging "rate me please" pop-up!!! WTF?
Devs, you already have my money. Don't push it! I may consider complying with the request, IF you in return provide you private phone number so that I can INTERRUPT you!!!

blizzard7  Mar. 26, 2012 at 13:39

I personally like the model used by the (excellent) Gotham City Impostors. The game itself is a tenner, which is a really good price. Then if you want early access to things, you hand over a little bit more to get what you want. However, someone who pays to buy the extra stuff, isn't at any sort of advantage gameplay-wise. Really clever.

Pondlife  Mar. 26, 2012 at 14:16

Sounds like diamond dash wants to be an arcade game.
Insert coin


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