By way of contrast, I’d like to demonstrate an example of the free-to-play model which is somewhat obtuse at best and infuriating at worst, and illuminate you with a prime example of how this reality isn’t the only possible one.
Most free-to-play games use multiple currencies. One of these is the one more normally used for in-game play, while the other, less attainable, is usually obfuscated and handed out on rare occasions, but is capable of delivering extreme bonuses or power-ups.
Flight Control Rocket, for example, has your powerups come in the form of ‘droids’. You can have one droid active at any given time, and each one requires ‘charging’, which means leaving it alone for a bit. If you’ve been playing for hours (I totally did) and have depleted all your droids’ batteries, you can either wait until the next day, or buy a new battery using in-game gold, which is purchasable with real-world cash.
Now, since these are optional extras, it’s not really a problem, but let’s look at Sim City Social (also by EA). You have in-game money, which fuels the economy of your city, and you have ‘gems’, which are awarded once every time you level up (once every two hours or so of gameplay). The mechanic is quite similar, but SimCity Social makes the misstep of peppering the regular everyday buildings with gem requirements, as well as its achievements.
For example, one of the achievements being flagged for you to achieve is permanently stationed on the left. It isn’t ‘Build a farm then get it to level 3’, it’s something grander like ‘Build a blimp’. That blimp happens to cost 16 gems. For those counting, that means that you’ll have to play about 30+ hours of the game to get this achievement.
Gems are the item which are available for in-game purchase, meaning the blimp achievement (which stays affixed on the screen and has no ‘hide’ option) is reduced to little more than an advert to spend in-game gold – a constant reminder that you’re not getting the full experience of the game because you refuse to monetise post-download.
The free-to-play model argument is still in full flux, with some examples being lauded while others are scorned.
Then there’s Tiny Wings – the humble little bird-jumper which, with a modest feature set, made its mark in the early days of the Apple App Store. Created by one-man-band Andreas Illiger, Tiny Wings saw you try to time your downward momentum well enough to land in the ‘scoop’ shaped hills in such a way that you’d fling yourself back up into the air, the minuscule wings of the adorable creatures flapping vigorously as it showered you in a memorably cute soundtrack and a scrapbook cardboard cut-out art style which made you feel like you were watching an early Wes Anderson film.
Flash forward a couple of years and Tiny Wings is one of the big success stories on the platform, but little has been heard from the developer.
Last week, he announced ‘Tiny Wings 2.0’ with an amazingly adorable trailer (which plays right into my Wes Anderson comparison) where he’d hand crafted a music-box where the sheet music with punched-holes had the game world drawn onto it, and as it played the Tiny Wings tune like a little ballerina box, a hand from off camera held a little coloured in paper cut-out of the bird going up and down.
Yesterday, it released. It came out, not as a sequel, as one would’ve expected, but as a free update. Over 12 months’ development time was given away for free, adding multiplayer, iPad support, retina support, a new game mode and AI to play against. Easily worthy of a sequel, Illiger had this to say to Touch Arcade on his decision to release it for free as an update instead of as paid in-game content or as a sequel in a standalone app:
I [never] clarified if it will be an update or an separate app before the release because then my fans will be happy on the release day when they see that the sequel isn’t a separate app and they will get it for free. I worked on the 2.0 version for the last 12 months and everyone told me I should make a seperate app out of it and sell it again (because it is almost a new game and I would earn a lot more money). It was a heavy decision for me to give away this new version for free but it feels right (most people I talked about this subject don’t understand it :).
So I decided to give it away for free as a big “thank you” to all my fans for changing my life. That’s really important for me and the reason why I make this little stupid marketing trick of confusing my fans before the release.
I confess I was at first worried when I saw that the new mode had a big and prominent part saying ‘new islands coming soon’. My first thought way ‘Aha! He’s simply saying all this nice stuff to get people to love him and get back into the game, then he’s going to sting us!’, but this statement is pretty clear. He’s unlikely to monetise those new islands any more than he has the new version of the game.
By Leigh Harris - Bio
So here are your multiple ends of the spectrum. Weigh in! What annoys or doesn’t annoy you about in-game purchases? The conversation is still very active -- where is the line for you?