The lights are on
Over the past few years, the number of gaming options on
social networks and mobile devices has exploded, dwarfing those of current-gen
consoles. With this endless new variety comes a shift in monetization methods,
from traditional one-time purchases to freemium games and microtransactions.
While there are plenty of quality mobile and free-to-play
titles on the market, some developers place a higher importance on maximizing
revenue than delivering a good game experience. Console and PC gamers routinely
take developers and publishers to task for any moneymaking ploy that interferes
with gameplay, but what if the free game you just downloaded is your first
introduction to the medium?
following is a list of eight red flags of modern gaming. While these warning
signs are not a guarantee that you're about to get fleeced, if you recognize
more than one of these characteristics, you should think critically about how
much time and money you're willing to spend on the game.
Console and PC gamers should also take note: Many of these aspects have
already started to invade our favorite platforms, and will continue playing a
larger role in our gaming experiences as next-gen systems embrace alternate
Your Progress is Time-GatedFor many free-to-play games, "time is money" is more than a
maxim – it's a core design principle. Whether you're waiting to harvest a crop
in a simulation game, revive a party member in an RPG, or play another round in
a match-three game, some developers introduce arbitrary time barriers in hopes
that you'll pay money to bypass them. Sure, you could wait 15 hours for the next floor in
your digital high-rise to be completed – but why not throw down a couple of nickels and dimes for instant gratification? While patient gamers may not mind the
inconvenience, there's no good design reason for regulating the player's
enjoyment in this way.
You Need Friends to Be CompetitivePlaying games with friends is great, but some free-to-play
titles approach multiplayer with the elegance of a chain letter. Haranguing
friends to join your digital mafia family/magic guild/etc. isn't just annoying – it's the video game equivalent of a Ponzi
scheme. Signing up friends should
never be a core gameplay mechanic or a requirement for success. If every user
review for the game you're considering ends with "Hey add me plz:
Gamedood666," you're probably better off finding something else to play.
The Game Has More Than One CurrencyLots of
developers blur the line of microtransactions by selling players a virtual
currency that can also be earned by just playing the game. The balancing of
this economy determines its fairness to the player, but if the game has more
than one currency, watch out. Oftentimes, developers lock the most desirable
items and upgrades behind a second currency, which is a lot harder – or sometimes impossible – to earn
through gameplay. If the alternate currency
is some combination of the developer's name and "bucks" or "coins," there's a
good chance you'll be pressured to pay up the more you play.
The In-Game Shop is Its Own Separate EntityAnother
indicator of how a game handles microtransactions is the pervasiveness of the in-game shop. Is it accessed solely when purchasing new items inside of the game, or
is it featured in a prominent spot on the main menu screen before you even
begin playing? The more the virtual store stands as its own separate entity,
the greater the chance that trading real money for digital goods is a
considerable, if not vital, component of the game.
One-Use Items Cost Real MoneyWe don't fault a developer for giving players the option to
quickly unlock a new weapon/character/card pack/etc. with real money, but
selling one-use items is a sign that they don't just want you to pay for the
game – they want you to keep paying for the game. If a game sells one-use
items, keep an eye out for difficulty spikes; a developer that's unscrupulous
enough to sell temporary boosts for real money is also likely willing to
balance the game in a way that requires buying said improvements.
The Game Rewards You For Promoting ItFree-to-play developers rely mainly on word of mouth to lift their games above the sea of other mobile offerings. While we don't mind when a games asks if we'd like to write a user review or "Like" it on Facebook, offering in-game incentives for such endorsements is a shady practice. These virtual quid pro quos are easily ignored, but unless you're working in the marketing department, it's not your job to advertise for the developer. Plying compliant players with virtual items or currency only muddies the reception of the game – was its popularity earned or paid for?
Help Costs MoneyMany developers rely on
microtransactions to make a profit, but what if your game
doesn't contain peripheral elements that can be sold piecemeal? We've noticed a
disturbing new trend in puzzle games: Developers charging money to provide players with hints. This practice
contradicts good game design; the more confusing
or vague a given puzzle is, the more money a developer can potentially make
from it. To capitalize on your orchestrated confusion even further, some games
don't give you the option to skip troublesome puzzles. If a game ever leaves you with no recourse
other than to pay money for being stumped, just stop playing. In-game help
isn't something that should be ransomed.
The Game is on a Top Grossing ListNo shortage of manipulative games exists on the mobile
market, a problem for which both Apple and Google are partly to blame. One of
the main ways the App Store and Google Play direct players toward content is
with a list of the Top Grossing Games on their respective platforms. This
ranking isn't based on user reviews or number of downloads, but rather how much
money a game makes via its price and in-game purchases. While good games periodically make the list, the titles
at the top of the ranking tend to be the ones that most aggressively exploit the above techniques to make money,
regardless of how it affects gameplay.
This article originally appeared in issue 241 of Game Informer.
Email the author Jeff Marchiafava, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.
I don't play any games that do any of those things.
This is why I stopped looking for games on my ipad. Sure, there are some good titles, but if I already have a dedicated handheld gaming device(the 3DS), then I hardly see the point of this.
Step 1. Make addictive game
Step 2. ?Micro transactions?
Step 3. Profit!
Is this a sign of how things are going to work on the Xbox One?
In all seriousness, I don't think gamers on this site fall for these casual market buisness practices. Everything that Microsoft is doing is more of a red flag than these.
I would suck to this kind of stuff in console gaming; but the ides of trading something for instant progress in a game isn't that bad (if done right.) Here's an example: the 3DS has a Pedometer that counts your foot step sand gives you virtual 'play coins' for them. Some games allow you to trade in said play coins for money and such. This is okay because the only way to get play coins is by walking. If other systems implemented similar methods it could easily be pretty big.
In other words, 99% of Free to Play games. Thankfully I've never given a single "Free" to Play game a single dime, and I never will. I swore up and down and I still swear I will leave this hobby for good when it becomes too pro-corporate and too anti-consumer.
And now, after watching the industry get flooded with manipulative "Free" to Play games, seeing these manipulative "Microtransactions" getting shoved into paid games, and reading about Microsoft's absurdly anti-consumer business practices, I fear my departure might come a lot sooner than I thought.
I feel good having never played a game that is like this, oh wait, that's probably because I don't use FaceBook, or play mobile games, and actually enjoy sitting down and playing real games that are actually fun to play and even worth that 30 to 60 dollar price... But that's just me...
I remember reading this in the print magazine. Even though I do not play mobile games, it's still interesting to see how many different ways gaming companies are trying to screw their costumers over.
"We want to appeal to the Call of Duty audience." That's a pretty big red flag right there.
Screw mobile and f2p games. They are the cause the game industry going downhill. Some days I wish harm on mobile gamers cause they support this crap and they don't know what a real video game is and they are the cause for the decline in video games.
that's why i stick with console games and the $30 bin...
League of Legends has two separate currencies, but that doesn't really bother me.
Hopefully Zynga tanking will cause many of these money grabs to fade out. I hate that I have to be 100% anti-free to play because of all the companies that do it wrong, even if there are a few that mostly get it about right.
I stopped playing that free to play Command and Conquer game because of some of these issues. Mainly because it took too much time to build up defenses / offenses with high enough levels to stop another bankroll player from stomping your front door in and ransacking your base. I generally despise the "free to play" structure. Even the name of the pay scheme is disingenuous.
At first micro-transactions don't seem like much, but even 5 or 10 dollars here and there will soon add up to a potential large sum of money or at least the price of a modern console game. The gaming world has drastically changed even in four to five years time and as such we must constantly adapt to that change.
Some good, valid points there Jeff.