Ah, freemium games. I’m actually ok with the concept in theory, but once every few months a "free" mobile game comes along that inspires a 600-word letter of complaint. This week, that game was Gunner Z.
Offering a service for free and charging for premium elements (free + premium = freemium) is all well and good, but the bastardised money-grabbing version blighting mobile apps makes me want to vomit all over my iPad in protest. Er, maybe penning this list makes more sense.
Yep, rather than go on another largely unstructured rant (see We hate you, freemium model and Freemium nightmare: Candy Crush Saga and Real Racing 3), I figured I’d go for a Top 5 countdown type thing.
Here, in no particular order, are five reasons to hate freemium games:
1. Why not charge up front?
This is a big one for me. I have a real problem with something being downloadable for free and later a) feeling pressured into spending money, and/or b) having the developer stick its hand out at every turn. I’d much prefer if the cost was laid out up front; freemium, for me, feels almost deceptive.
Imagine the freemium model was applied to the cinema. You could go see films for free, but after 20 minutes the movie would be paused and you’d have to spend £1 to see the next chunk. In traditional freemium style, the length of the next chunk wouldn’t be specified, so there’s always the chance you’d have to fork out more later in the film.
Or maybe you’d see a free film and a trailer for another movie from the same studio would play every fifteen minutes.
Doesn’t sound too appealing, does it? So why is the freemium model adopted so widely in the smartphone gaming industry? We can answer that with our next point…
2. Freemium developers are purely out to make money
The sad truth is that the freemium model works on smartphones and tablets. A quick look at the Top 30 Grossing Games on the App Store shows that only three have an up-front price tag (Football Manager Handheld 2014, a gay social networking app, and a genie that guesses what you’re thinking; Christ), the rest being free. Yes, “free”.
But while freemium antics are undeniably lucrative, applying them often has an adverse effect on the quality of the game. More on this below.
When it comes to integrity, rolling out freemium games is almost the equivalent of churning out audience-friendly rom-coms about two people who appear to be polar opposites, but – wait for it – fall in love come the end of the movie (no way!), instead of trying to make some lasting impression with the next Godfather or Shawshank Redemption.
Hey, if you can sleep at night, fire in.
3. Waiting times
Waiting times have become a frequent feature in freemium, popularised by the likes of Candy Crush Saga, which carefully rations lives, and Real Racing 3, which asks you to wait patiently for upgrades and repairs.
Essentially, some games are locked down and held to ransom, as they’re impossible to play until the clock counts down.
Worse still, you can often speed things along by whoring invites to your friends. Remember all those Candy Crush Saga Facebook invites? Cringe.
4. Difficulty levels
Charging for optional freemium content is fine; I’m thinking of stuff like alternative characters and outfits. Or maybe you can pay to unlock later levels or abilities rather than patiently playing through the game. Nothing wrong with that; those are choices.
But when developers start to tinker with the actual game in an attempt to siphon money from players, my Angry-o-meter starts to creep up.
The obvious one is increasing the difficulty, as was the case in Gunner Z. You can routinely expect your vehicle to take an absolute pounding, unless you’re willing to invest real-world cash in upgrades.
It’s tantamount to coercion. Again, where’s your integrity, guys?
5. The overall quality
The freemium model almost invariably cheapens the experience, and indeed I’m struggling to think of many/any free games that I’ve really enjoyed this year. There are exceptions, of course, but expect the inevitable Top Smartphone Games of 2013 countdown to be comprised almost entirely of paid apps.