When it comes to mobile games, we’re completely spoiled. There’s a host of excellent titles on the App Store, such as Angry Birds, for a measly 69p each. That’s about the same price as a packet of bloody crisps these days. Incredible.
Better still, there’s a whole bunch of free stuff on the various marketplaces. Janet Jackson had a point when she sang: “The best things in life are free”, but there’s also truth in the old saying: “Nothing comes for free.”
Don’t get me wrong here; I’m not complaining. It’s not easy being a developer and getting noticed among the (literally) hundreds of thousands of other apps, never mind turning a profit, and these guys need to eat and pay bills just like the rest of us.
But it depends how developers go about grabbing those bucks when they’re giving games away for free. One method I approve of; one method I’ve grown to detest.
I hate, hate, hate television advertising. It’s the work of the devil. There are a few exceptions, like the recent Skittles ad (YouTube), but the majority of them are utterly soulless, devoid of creativity or passion and carefully crafted to pander to the masses gawking open-mouthed at the screen.
But I’m off on a tangent here. The point I’m actually trying to make (er, conversely) is that I don’t mind banner ads in mobile games. They’re largely unobtrusive, and it’s reassuring to know that the developers are guaranteed a few pence for their troubles.
And, if the ads start to grate, you can pay to get rid of them. That seems like a fair trade to me. This is the method Backflip favours in games like Paper Toss, Buganoids and Strike Knight. Ditto Words With Friends. All good. We all know where we stand.
The other method, the one I don’t like, is the freemium model.
I had the pleasure (ahem) of reviewing Contract Killer: Zombies this week. It’s developed by Glu Mobile, who, alongside Zynga, are one of the biggest pioneers of freemium action.
If you’re not familiar with the term “freemium”, it essentially means the app is given away for free, but with muchos content available to buy within the game. That’s how the developers make their money. In Zynga’s FarmVille, for example, you can pay real money for farm cash and coins.
There are a few other cheeky tactics employed by the model. You can often “like” the app on Facebook in order to gain a few in-game creds. Sometimes apps are recommended, and downloading and running them also gets you some in-game currency. Hmm.
It varies from game to game, but often the content is aimed at lazy peeps who’d rather spend real money than invest time leveling up the old-fashioned way.
That might sound ok in theory, but the games are clearly developed with content in mind. They’re carefully balanced to make the content as attractive as possible. You’ll often feel like you’re missing out, or – worse still – like you’re at a disadvantage without the purchasable goodies.
The worst example I’ve encountered is the aforementioned Contract Killer: Zombies. It recommends specific weapons for each level, but you don’t have a hope in hell of affording them without forking over real cash.
One level I’m stuck at sees Evelyn continually ravaged by zombies, and apparently no amount of shotgun blasting can save her. I believe the solution lies in the medgun. A quick blast with that and her health will rocket, meaning I can (presumably) finish the level.
I can’t afford the medgun outright, but I can pay £2.99 for £10K cash on the Android Market. That’s approaching the top end of what I’d pay for a full game, never mind an optional extra that might help me finish one level. And who’s to say I won’t have to fork out more for later levels?
It’s the lack of clarity and the sense of being blackmailed (to put it bluntly) that bother me. Why not simply sell the app for a fixed price up front? Is there more money to be made via the freemium model? Presumably so.
I thought perhaps I was alone in such thinking, but my friend – without any prior discussion about freemium nonsense – said: “Oh, I got that zombie game on my iPad. Can't say I'm a fan of micro transaction type stuff in games (buying money and stuff) when it affects the gameplay.
“Like the mission where it recommends a sniper rifle that you can't afford. I know it was free but I think I'd rather spend £2.99 on a game that you can play from the off than get a free game that constantly tries to get money out of you.”
Well, I reckon I’ve rambled on for long enough. My point: either charge us up front, put removable ads in games, or tease our gaming nipples with a brief demo. The end.