I’ve been back and forward on the whole freemium thing (freebies that rely on in-app purchases to make money), frequently venting in lengthy features, but occasionally convincing myself – somehow – that it’s not that bad.
Looking at the big picture, there are two schools of thought on freemium, and I kinda subscribe to both notions.
On the one hand, a lot of in-game content is nonsense (things like character skins), and if people would rather pay real money for stuff instead of saving up in-game currency, why stop them? After all, it’s effectively scoring you a free ticket.
And if developers are making tons of money (the top grossing apps tend to be ‘free’), that makes for a healthy ecosystem with more apps and games. Everybody wins.
On the other hand, developers can become more focused on ways to make money than simply making good games.
Thankfully there are still some developers out there with integrity. Would Year Walk have raked in more cash if it had been free with purchasable hints? Probably. But it would’ve also ruined the game, which is painfully atmospheric.
Alas, more and more we’re seeing games being ‘free’ initially, when really we’d rather just pay up front and be done with it.
Even the mighty EA revealed in summer 2012 that it’d stop charging up front, and start releasing ‘free’ games.
One such game is Real Racing 3. Its predecessor, Real Racing 2, costs £2.99 for the iPhone, £4.99 for the iPad, and £3.28 on Google Play, yet the latest version is free to install. How does that work?
Well, Real Racing 3 sucks you in with its excellent gameplay before enforcing increasingly frustrating waiting times for repairs and upgrades. When your car is being repaired, you can’t use it – sometimes for upwards of 30 minutes.
At that stage you have a choice: walk away and do something else, or pay real money to speed things along.
To be fair, you can hurry repairs with in-game currency as opposed to GBP, but the former becomes more precious as Real Racing 3 goes on, and ultimately you’re faced with the aforementioned choice.
Personally, while I did find the whole thing irksome, I do tend to find myself juggling several games at once for review purposes, so I could bugger off and play something else for 30 minutes. Not the end of the world.
Having said that, developers might wish to take note; I spoke to two different people who lined up a whole bunch of upgrades and repairs, left the game, but never went back to it. Mind you, these are people who aren’t paying real money, so they’re not the priority here.
Anyway, that’s Real Racing 3. Excellent game, but occasionally frustrating.
The other game I mentioned in the opening paragraph was Candy Crush Saga. It’s even worse than Real Racing 3. Indeed, it’s astounding that such freemium antics are endorsed by the various app stores.
Candy Crush Saga is an awesome little match-three game, which offers extra moves and power-ups for a price, but – like I said in the review – you don’t need any of that stuff to progress. The perfect balance.
However! When you reach level 36, you’re asked to pay 69p for an unspecified number of levels (surely there’s some rule whereby the developer has to make clear what’s on offer?), or – alternatively – you can annoy your Facebook friends.
Secret option #3 (which is tucked away at the bottom right) is to participate in three Mystery Challenges. There’s nothing mysterious about them; they’re just three normal Candy Crush Saga levels, but separated by – get this – a 24-hour time restriction. That is, when you finish one Mystery Challenge, all you can do is wait 24 hours for the next one. Genuinely incredible.
But that’s just the nature of mobile games these days, I’m afraid. We only have ourselves to blame. Let’s just pray it doesn’t become the standard for console games.