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April 29, 2013 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Introducing Super Monster Bros by Adventure Time Pocket Free Games! Where the characters are Pokemon (kinda), the gameplay is Mario (kinda), and the content will cost you up to $99.99 to unlock!
posted by Rory Marinich (75 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by Fizz at 2:15 PM on April 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


The worst part is that there are no other options if you want to play a Mario-style platformer other than this kind of "Free to Play" microtransaction scam. They've got a captive audience.
posted by straight at 2:15 PM on April 29, 2013


Please pay only .99 cents to read the rest of this comment!
posted by The Whelk at 2:19 PM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Please pay only .99 cents to read the rest of this comment!

Do you accept bitcoins?
posted by Fizz at 2:20 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's the developer/publisher. Welcome to the Chinese century!
posted by KokuRyu at 2:22 PM on April 29, 2013


I accept bit coins, licked bills, nibbled bullion and gently kissed gemstones.
posted by Splunge at 2:22 PM on April 29, 2013 [20 favorites]


What do Free to Play game developers and crack dealers have in common? Your first hit is free, after that you gotta pay. Its a pretty bad waste of money, but I don't see it as being much worse than Injustice: Gods Among Us for IOS charging $49.99 so you can unlock Superman.
posted by Jernau at 2:26 PM on April 29, 2013


straight: "The worst part is that there are no other options if you want to play a Mario-style platformer other than this kind of "Free to Play" microtransaction scam."

Metacritic's highest-scoring iOS platformers
Touch Arcade's best-of-2012 iOS platformers

There are plenty of decent games out there, it's just that Apple's discovery system is really lame.
posted by whitecedar at 2:27 PM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


And I thought Candy Crush Saga was bad for trying to charge for every damn thing.

On the other hand, this app at least has a confirmation screen, so you can't buy things by accidental misclick, so that's one area where it has Candy Crush Saga beat.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:28 PM on April 29, 2013


Ugh, Candy Crush. It's like, let's take a match-3 puzzle game and combine it with intentionally unbalanced luck dependency and galling upsell prompts.

People who think the moderators always put on a united front, hear me: restless_nomad suggested this shitshow of a game to me and I will never forgive her.
posted by cortex at 2:31 PM on April 29, 2013 [38 favorites]


According to figures Apple released a few weeks ago, 75% of the money that flows through the mobile app store is people buying items inside a free app. All the top "grossing" apps are free. The company SuperCell is making > 2 million dollars a day and it only has two apps n the store.
posted by w0mbat at 2:35 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ugh, it's terrible. Right now I'm playing Gameloft's MLP Friendship is Magic game, and the way it tries to make you buy gems is insane. Oftentimes you can spend gems to skip a more expensive gem quest (ie, use 10 gems to skip instead of spending 100 to get a pony) or you can't advance without buying gems. It's not so much the cost of the gems in real life, but what they buy in the game. I think 1200 gems is 74 GBP, but given that Princess Celestia is 650 gems, it doesn't really go that far :S Plus the game is somewhat fragile - if you clear the data, your game is gone. One update also broke my game and I had to start over. Suffice to say, I can't be bothered to buy gems except for the $5 pack, which is all I felt it was worth, given the lack of support.
posted by Calzephyr at 2:38 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Play Store (Android) has a "top-grossing" category as well as a "top selling" category for games. If a game is on the first list but not the second... yeah, don't bother.
posted by GuyZero at 2:39 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was just complaining about this aspect of Candy Crush yesterday. The thing is, if certain powerups were, say, $1, I'd say sure. $5? I would still consider it, since I find the gameplay a lot of fun. But $40? When I first saw that I wasn't sure if it was real or if my game was glitching.

I wish I could see some kind of data on how many players actually pay for these absurdly-priced add-ons. It's got to be a considerable number or the developers would have changed it, right?
posted by Nedroid at 2:48 PM on April 29, 2013


I avoid games pushing microtransactions by not downloading them. There are more great iOS games that cost a pittance and don't have microtransactions than I can ever play.
posted by Blue Meanie at 2:57 PM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]




This is totally unrelated to the show Adventure Time, right? Because if it isn't I'm deeply disillusioned.
posted by Sangermaine at 3:21 PM on April 29, 2013


This is totally unrelated to the show Adventure Time, right? Because if it isn't I'm deeply disillusioned.

From a cursory glance at the youtube video, the IP is all ripped off of Pokemon, there are no Adventure Time elements.
posted by kaytwo at 3:30 PM on April 29, 2013


The new Iron Man 3 game on iOS is horrible for this too. It's an infinite runner, but with a time delay to "repair" your armor between each round — which you can use in game currency to skip. And that's a different sort of in-game currency than the one to build and upgrade armors — though that takes time too, so you can pay more to skip the wait. And unlocking armor requires you to sacrifice XP, then use currency to build. The whole thing is just waiting and being bugged to buy credits.
posted by themadthinker at 3:31 PM on April 29, 2013


This makes my in-game scamming in EVE Online feel inadequate.
posted by ryanrs at 3:31 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anthony Clark of Nedroid hits this perfectly
posted by themadthinker at 3:33 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even the name is disgusting. "Super M____ Bros" to rope in people searching for Super Mario Bros., "Adventure Time" to bring in fans of the show, and "Free," which has to be one of the most popular search terms for games. Not to mention that "Free" is a blatant lie.
posted by mokin at 3:34 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Please pay only .99 cents to read the rest of this comment!

Nah, yeah, nah.

we wanna monetize the core demo all up in this bitch.

IAP favorites.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:55 PM on April 29, 2013


I'm really curious about that hole he didn't fall into. Are they all like that? Did they just not bother programming the ability to fall in holes?
posted by RobotHero at 4:05 PM on April 29, 2013


I'm really curious about that hole he didn't fall into. Are they all like that? Did they just not bother programming the ability to fall in holes?

I imagine they want the free players to stay in the game as long as possible to have more opportunities to bombard them with predatory offers. It strikes me as particularly galling that they think people will attribute this to luck or skill.
posted by Bistle at 4:17 PM on April 29, 2013


Given the rest, I'm a little surprised that having solid ground which you don't fall right through isn't an in-app purchase.
posted by ckape at 4:21 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, this really reminds me of the Dendy games knockoffs, except with the ability to extract even more money in real time: Dendy Chronicles
posted by Bistle at 4:22 PM on April 29, 2013


Jewels Star is like the bargain-bin candy crush.
posted by zscore at 4:48 PM on April 29, 2013


> The worst part is that there are no other options if you want to play
> a Mario-style platformer other than this kind of "Free to Play"

If you have NESoid, John NES Lite or NES.emu, you can play actual Super Mario Bros. -- like the real original one, really, for reals -- on your Android tablet for (at most) the price of the NES cart off eBay.

I don't do iOS, but I have no doubt there are similar options in that ecosystem (or at least the jailbroken biome within ditto).

Now, whether you'll have fun playing something with gameplay that's built around pixel-perfect jumping and millisecond-precision timing on a touch-screen is another matter. But even then, there are controller rigs with real physical joysticks on offer.
posted by sourcequench at 4:59 PM on April 29, 2013


I assumed straight was being sarcastic. The iOS store is inundated with platformers; surely there's a ton that combine Mario style and lack of freemium horseshit. I'm not a fan of the genre, particularly with touchscreen controls, so I can't give a lot of direct references, but here's one I've heard of.
posted by rifflesby at 5:18 PM on April 29, 2013


Given the rest, I'm a little surprised that having solid ground which you don't fall right through isn't an in-app purchase.

There's an Easy Mode in one of the recent MegaMan games (9 or 10, I forget which; WiiWare and PSN and X360) that does this. It makes MM so much more fun for me. Cheap deaths are freakin' boring.

On the subject: I've stopped buying anything with repeatable in-app purchases. Obviously if you use it for something like releasing expansions, or as a shareware mode, sure, no problem. But if I see something for "x widgets" I lose all interest. Video games are a business, and that's.. fine, but those aren't the games I want to play.
posted by curious nu at 5:42 PM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I thought Plague Inc was doing this to me with the Necora Virus that I could not beat at all and I was stewing cause I had paid for the game they shouldn't be hiding win modes in purchases grar grar grar

Turns out I was somehow missed an entire tree of upgrades and once I figure that out I could beat the level easily. Sigh.
posted by The Whelk at 5:44 PM on April 29, 2013


Not surprisingly, it's gone from the App Store.
posted by alms at 5:58 PM on April 29, 2013


I avoid games pushing microtransactions by not downloading them.

I'll say this for Apple's App Store, at least they mention the most-purchased in-app purchases on the store page, unlike the Android Play Store. It very quickly tells you if the app is worth your time at all.

Even so, so many games on both stores pull this crap, to some degree, that I have largely given up on them as a place to look for things to play. It has nearly ruined mobile gaming for me. I'd rather pay full price right off the bat, maybe after playing a free demo version somewhere, than put up with being nickel and dimed for bullshit features.
posted by JHarris at 6:14 PM on April 29, 2013


If you have NESoid, John NES Lite or NES.emu, you can play actual Super Mario Bros. -- like the real original one, really, for reals -- on your Android tablet for (at most) the price of the NES cart off eBay.

If you've jailbroken an iOS machine, you can get emulators fairly cheap that sync to a Wiimote.
posted by JHarris at 6:18 PM on April 29, 2013


Even so, so many games on both stores pull this crap, to some degree, that I have largely given up on them as a place to look for things to play.

Yeah, browsing the app stores is basically futile now. Better to RSS a review site such as Pocketgamer.
posted by rifflesby at 6:22 PM on April 29, 2013


Also, may I add that ONE BUTTON JUMP RUNNING GAMES CAN ALL DIE IN FIRE. One is fine; one thousand are not.
posted by JHarris at 6:24 PM on April 29, 2013


Yep. Canabalt was great, and that was basically all we ever needed of that.
posted by rifflesby at 6:28 PM on April 29, 2013


Ugh, it's terrible. Right now I'm playing Gameloft's MLP Friendship is Magic game, and the way it tries to make you buy gems is insane.

That game is HORRIBLE. You can get gems by "playing" (really waiting) normally, but they're timelocked so you'll literally be "playing" several years to finish it all. It is everything bad about social gaming, but posed to milk the show's fanbase, trying to convert some of that enthusiasm into money. It's not too hard to hack the game so that all the costs are 0 (you don't even need to jailbreak/root to do it), but it doesn't even give you anything. Just AVOID, life is finite, there are better things to do with it.
posted by JHarris at 6:39 PM on April 29, 2013


CANDY CRUSH. Why do I play, why why why? I've been playing for about 3 months, I'm only on level 39- and there's over 300 levels!. I get stuck on levels for weeks. WEEKS. The only reward for one level is....another damn level! Sometimes I think I should just delete the damn app altogether...but I haven't yet and I don't know why. SAVE YOURSELVES, STAY AWAY.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:49 PM on April 29, 2013


Anthony Clark of Nedroid hits this perfectly

Metafilter's own?

And, I think this is going to get worse before it's gets better. Microtransaction-backed free games have been steadily growing in number (I don't want to sale 'popularity', because blech), and there has been a concerted push to add them to non-free games for a while, on both mobile and non-mobile platforms.

$99.99 is hardly a micro-transaction, though. Macro transaction? Transaction? Scam?
posted by cjelli at 6:51 PM on April 29, 2013


According to figures Apple released a few weeks ago, 75% of the money that flows through the mobile app store is people buying items inside a free app. All the top "grossing" apps are free.

Do developers get a bigger cut if money is coming through their app vs. the iTunes/Apple App Store?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:53 PM on April 29, 2013


People who think the moderators always put on a united front, hear me: restless_nomad suggested this shitshow of a game to me and I will never forgive her

You're still playing it, aren't you? Uh-huh. That's what I thought.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:54 PM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


The end result of this thread is that I downloaded Candy Crush, so fuck all you guys.
posted by kbanas at 7:34 PM on April 29, 2013


Please pay only .99 cents to read the rest of this comment!

Not only am I in, I'm going to round it up to the full penny for your thoughts. #verizonmath
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:34 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


No kbanas, you're fucked.

I have an X-ray specs app on the back page of candy crush you can use to beat the game. It's only 1800 Microsoft points plus shipping and handling.
posted by cmfletcher at 7:46 PM on April 29, 2013


Candy Crush Saga is Evil, though it sounds like many of you have found this out the hard way.
posted by Blue Meanie at 7:48 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I assumed straight was being sarcastic. The iOS store is inundated with platformers;

Yes. I thought I was being ridiculously obviously sarcastic.

Chris Remo on the Idle Thumbs podcast tells of overhearing to guys in an airport, dressed like lawyers, discussing a game (Ridge Racer 3 maybe). One was complaining about how he wouldn't have connectivity on the flight and so couldn't play the game (because it needed an online connection, maybe to unlock stuff with microtransactions, something like that).

The other guy says, "Dude, just buy Ridge Racer 2. It's basically the same game, but once you purchase it, that unlocks the entire game and you can play the whole thing."

Which led Chris Remo to conclude that the whole fremium model is doomed in the long run. Why would you put up with the crap in this game when you can play much, much better platformers on your iOS device for free or very little cost, and with none of this hassle? Surely in the long run games like this are going to lose out to games that don't stop the fun every five minutes and ask you for money. Those quarter-munching arcade machines sure aren't doing very well any more.
posted by straight at 7:52 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have the demo version of Bejeweled Blitz on my computer. It only lets you play 10 one-minute games per day unless you pay money.

Little did PopCap know, I would have paid them extra money for a version of Bejeweled that doesn't let me play more than ten minutes a day.
posted by straight at 7:56 PM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


How much for the Super Amazing Incredible Toy? Only $20!
posted by arcticseal at 7:57 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love Bejewelled Blitz, and spend a stupid amount of money on it for powerups trying to beat my friends scores. Who are also spending money on powerups. I think we'd all save money if we'd agree to not do it, but blah blah game theory.
posted by empath at 8:16 PM on April 29, 2013


You're still playing it, aren't you? Uh-huh. That's what I thought.

Oh shit no. I played it longer than I should have, but eventually had the good sense to delete that fucker off my phone and have not regretted it in the least. These days I'm wasting my time and ignoring upsells on Knights of Pen & Paper, which is a far more charming stupid timesink.
posted by cortex at 8:27 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


curious nu: "Given the rest, I'm a little surprised that having solid ground which you don't fall right through isn't an in-app purchase.

There's an Easy Mode in one of the recent MegaMan games (9 or 10, I forget which; WiiWare and PSN and X360) that does this.
"

I remember one of the really early MegaMans way back in....maybe 1988 had a way you could do this. I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, and my memory is fuzzy, but the idea was the when you had both NES controllers plugged in, you would tape down the A and B buttons on the player 2 controller. When you played the game on the p1 controller, you could jump super high and when you fell into a hole, you would hit some kind of floor and not die and just jump back out.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:28 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


@KokuRyu - Not them, actually. Just another trick to make them seem legitimate. Honestly have no idea how Apple let this one through.
posted by OrangeDrink at 8:50 PM on April 29, 2013


[Facebook model] To read the rest of this comment, please request a letter from 1,000 of your friends every day for a week.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:10 PM on April 29, 2013


So this is certainly an egregious example, but the unfortunate reality is that this freemium model of revenue in mobile gaming is very likely here to stay. It's largely a result of the following factors: cheapness, piracy, competition, and where the money is.

Making a game costs money. Specifically, it requires money to pay engineers, artists, designers, and producers for at least a year, and longer if you actually want to make more than one game. Gone are the days of Tiny Wings, where a single person in a garage could make throw an app together quickly and hit it big. The competition is too fierce and the games are too high quality. So developers of all types - big and small, old and new, indie and pro - have to monetize well enough to sustain the kind of studio that can make quality games.

Let's say you like your chances, and you're going to make a mobile game. I'll assume you care about money at least a little bit, so you'll want to think about how you monetize. What are your options?

Games that are sold for an initial cost up front won't cut it, for at least four reasons. First, cheapness. This thread is a really good example of it. People are clearly reluctant to spend even tiny amounts of money on games they've probably poured hours into. There's still a huge cultural barrier where people are happy to go to a theater, pay $18 for a crappy 3-d movie, $10 for popcorn and soda, but flip their shit when it comes to paying even 99 cents to permanently improve their game experience on a mobile game. Most games only convert 6-10% of their users into buyers. And buyer just means someone that's paid any amount ever - just one time - over their lifetime of playing the game. Repeat buyers are maybe 2% of your game's total install base.

I want to emphasize this. If you make a game for a smartphone, 90% of people who play your game, people who might spend hundreds of hours playing it, will never give you a dime. Given how cheap people are, when a person looking for a game goes to the App Store, and they have a huge array of free games to choose from, why would they bother to pay for your game?

Second, piracy on the Android store makes it folly to charge up front (for example, see this game, where the game - like virtually all paid games on Android - was instantly hacked, and 94% of people playing were pirates). It's true that Apple is much less susceptible to this kind of piracy, but virtually every game developer quickly recognizes that Android is an inevitable aspect of their development. Even if you start with an app on iTunes, if it becomes successful, there's no better investment of time and effort than porting that successful game to Android, period. Even better, you thought of this ahead of time and built your game in a way so that it's already cross platform, allowing you to release on both stores without the additional time and cost of porting the game. Knowing that piracy is coming your way behooves you to build your game in a way that will allow it to succeed despite the piracy. This means picking the freemium / IAP model.

Third, competition. If you decide to start your game studio today, you'd be competing with Zynga, Supercell, King, and all the other companies that are throwing dozens of engineers and designers and artists at games making millions of dollars a month. The kind of game you have to make to compete with that (high quality, well balanced, polished like a marble, and fun as hell) will take you a long time to develop, at least a year. You're looking at sustaining 2 to 10 people on one or two games, the first year of which there will be NO revenue, and you have to somehow believe that the game you make will be found out of the tens of thousands of gaming apps already out there, and strike it rich enough to pay for all the time your studio was eating ramen living off savings AND enough to allow you to make another game!

This competition ties to the fourth variable, the money. If you sell for an initial up front cost and have no in app purchase options, you're doing yourself a disservice in so many ways. Gaming revenue is heavily tied to two things: "whales" and impulse. A huge chunk of gaming revenue comes from whales, users who pour tens of thousands of dollars into games like Farmville, Clash of Clans, and the like. Whales are incredibly price insensitive. This is why you see $35 powerups in Candy Crush Saga. Most people wouldn't have bought it at even $1, whereas the whale will drop $35 just as easily as they will drop $1, so you might as well charge $35 because you lose very few buyers, but you've made $34 more from the whale. If you let a whale play your game for $1.99, when they were willing to spend $5000, you've lost all that potential revenue. Impulse purchasing is also a huge driver, and games which exploit that tendency are far more profitable than games that are not. This is why virtually all the current top grossing games in the App Store are invest and express games. People who pay in games have more money than time, and so they pay money to skip ("express") time waits.

The freemium model of gaming was (mostly) not created by evil geniuses scheming up vicious and clever ways to pull hard earned dollars out of the wallets of clueless and unsuspecting users. It's very much the result of natural selection, where a ruthless user audience has unwittingly created an environment where game makers really have to scratch and claw and fight to find any way to keep their dream of making games alive while not starving to death. Game mechanics that end up with IAP attached to them are typically discovered, not invented. It's largely a result of throwing a TON of different ideas out, and seeing which ones actually make money.
posted by shen1138 at 11:22 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah! Someone making a substantive case I vehemently disagree with! Let's get to work:

but the unfortunate reality is that this freemium model of revenue in mobile gaming is very likely here to stay. It's largely a result of the following factors: cheapness, piracy, competition, and where the money is.
  • Cheapness: That is exactly what I think dooms freemium in the long run, but I'll get to that below.
  • Piracy: Anything you can pirate, you can pirate in-app transactions for. This is no barrier.
  • Competition: People eventually learn and adopt. When it gets bad enough -- it's not there yet -- the words in-app purchases will become a black spot against an app's reputation.
  • Where the money is: Markets change. What works now may not in the future, as the underlying assumptions and factors of the market shift the ground out from under your feet. The factor at work in this case is customer expectation.
Gone are the days of Tiny Wings, where a single person in a garage could make throw an app together quickly and hit it big.

The "days of Tiny Wings" were never here. It was an outlier, important to take note of but not representative of the whole. It certainly can happen again, if factors lined up again, but only a fool would rely upon lightning striking twice. The world it pounced upon wasn't that of 8-bit computer graphics and synth sound, it was on a fully multimedia-capable device, and there were already big-budget games trying, with varying success, to exploit it. Even at the height of the App Store's success, you weren't going to get rich with your app unless there was something else about it that drove its popularity, either extreme word of mouth, blog exposure, Apple noticing it and promoting it to the front page, or your own advertising.

Games that are sold for an initial cost up front won't cut it, for at least four reasons. First, cheapness. This thread is a really good example of it. People are clearly reluctant to spend even tiny amounts of money on games they've probably poured hours into. There's still a huge cultural barrier where people are happy to go to a theater, pay $18 for a crappy 3-d movie, $10 for popcorn and soda, but flip their shit when it comes to paying even 99 cents to permanently improve their game experience on a mobile game.

I don't understand your point here. You talk about initial costs, but then talk about "permanently improving their game experience," which is a function of an in-app purchase.

Given how cheap people are, when a person looking for a game goes to the App Store, and they have a huge array of free games to choose from, why would they bother to pay for your game?

Why have people ever bought commercial software when they're a thousand free hacked-together shareware Breakout clones they can play?

Second, piracy on the Android store makes it folly to charge up front (for example, see this game, where the game - like virtually all paid games on Android - was instantly hacked, and 94% of people playing were pirates).

Misleading statistics, with a bit of confirmation bias. Most of those 94% would never have paid for it and are only slightly relevant. The fact remains, and is especially true on mobile platforms, most people don't know how to pirate software, and don't care. And the game used as evidence costs $7.99 to buy legally, even thought it appears on its face to be a bog-standard social gaming kind of timewaster and thus to many (raising hand) not even worth $1 to buy up-front.

Third, competition. If you decide to start your game studio today, you'd be competing with Zynga, Supercell, King, and all the other companies that are throwing dozens of engineers and designers and artists at games making millions of dollars a month.

That's if you do what they do, which is find popular games and copy them to exhaustion. These companies would never have been profitable in a healthy marketplace. If you can't make an original game then your company doesn't deserve to stay afloat. If there are no more original ideas to have, then video gaming as a whole should expire unmourned.

If you're a one-man team, like the Tiny Wings guy, you simply cannot expect to have the kind of success he had. What you can do is keep your costs down, and not have to be so successful in order to break even. But you won't even do that unless you bring something new to the table. (You might not make it even then, there are plenty of factors wholly outside of your control. You can either give up or keep trying.)

The kind of game you have to make to compete with that (high quality, well balanced, polished like a marble, and fun as hell) will take you a long time to develop, at least a year.

Maybe, maybe not. Games are something that cannot always be improved just by dumping more effort on it. If you don't have a good initial idea, then no amount of polishing will add lustre to that turd, while sometimes an excellent idea will succeed despite lack of polish, like Dwarf Fortress. Or Minecraft (although that's not really a *super* example, Minecraft is polished where it counts).

If you sell for an initial up front cost and have no in app purchase options, you're doing yourself a disservice in so many ways.

If you sell for an up-front cost and have in-app purchase options, 90% of the time I will delete your app the moment I find out and give you a negative review because I ALREADY PAID YOU FOR THE GAME GODDAMMIT.

Gaming revenue is heavily tied to two things: "whales" and impulse. A huge chunk of gaming revenue comes from whales, users who pour tens of thousands of dollars into games like Farmville, Clash of Clans, and the like. Whales are incredibly price insensitive.

No honest game developer should be chasing whales. It's practically profiting off of mental illness. That big mobile gaming studios rely on them indicates how rotten the industry is.

Impulse purchasing is also a huge driver, and games which exploit that tendency are far more profitable than games that are not. This is why virtually all the current top grossing games in the App Store are invest and express games.

Woefully few of those games are objectively worth a damn. When the bottom falls out of that market, no one will care.

Why cheapness is bad for in-app purchases? Because there is no real exchange being made. The justification for the sale of software, as has been often remarked, isn't based on scarcity but on the effort it took to create it. When you give it away (hey, thanks!) but then sell some function within the game, the player intuitively knows he's paying you for bullshit, for the right to set a flag in your program (running on his hardware no less) in exchange for what can only be an arbitrary charge. The more arbitrary they recognize this charge as being, the more they'll chafe at it, and the more exposure to in-app purchases they get the more often that chafing will occur.

That's why I think in-app purchases, at least of this kind, are ultimately a dead-end. That might not be the case for all DLC, especially if it adds substantial new features or content to the software. But stuff like buying in-game currencies, yeah, that stuff is harmful, and the sooner those games die out the better off we'll all be. In my opinion, of course.
posted by JHarris at 1:03 AM on April 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


virtually every game developer quickly recognizes that Android is an inevitable aspect of their development. Even if you start with an app on iTunes, if it becomes successful, there's no better investment of time and effort than porting that successful game to Android, period.

Not really. Android ports are a pain in the ass due to all the different hardware specs and os versions, and once you do all the work, you don't make any money because android users don't pay for software.

So you've added a huge support headache for yourself, for almost no additional revenue.
posted by empath at 1:13 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


It certainly can happen again, if factors lined up again, but only a fool would rely upon lightning striking twice.

Super Hexagon was written by one guy and has done really well.
posted by empath at 1:18 AM on April 30, 2013


A couple of responses:

1. Piracy is a problem, its not simply confirmation bias. The basis for most of my statements comes from working at a mobile game company for the past couple years, and I can tell you that we very quickly abandoned making paid SKUs for Android because they were hacked and free versions of the game appeared on the app store, causing our Paid SKU sales to plummet to basically nothing. It's convenient to hand-wave away concerns based on what you believe to be true, but its at odds with the reality game makers face.

2. In-app purchases are not subject to piracy the same way that the app itself is, due to server validation. In order for you to use an item tied to in app purchase, you're going to have to talk to the game's servers, and that's the point at which we validate the transaction against your purchase history. If we don't have a record of you paying us money, you don't get the thing you're trying to pirate. This, of course, works best for consumable items or currency. It's true that things like DLC packs are still subject to piracy concerns. In app purchase is not a total solution but its much much harder to pirate. This security benefit alone is what will keep freemium and IAP going.

I also don't think the "chafing" phenomenon re IAP has materialized from what we've observed. With each successive game we released, we found that IAP became more popular among network users, not less. Moreover, as younger generations grow up accustomed to IAP as a core aspect of their games, it's seen as natural, and not "paying for bullshit." Again, trends we very much observed in our player base.

3. Revenue from Android versions was always a sizeable proportion of revenue and DAU from our company's games. Obviously not 100% of iOS, but way better than the lift we would see from even our most successful feature changes. Android ports are definitely a pain in the ass due to the fragmentation and miserly users but still vastly outperformed any other features we would add to existing games.

In general, JHarris, I feel like your positions are driven by idealized opinions about what a "healthy marketplace" or "honest game developer" are, or that people who have ample money to spend on games they enjoy are suffering from "mental illness", or that purity re "original ideas" are the only ones that deserve to stay alive (this standard would demand the dissolution of Blizzard, a company built entirely on making games in time-worn genres, but has my vote for best game maker in the world). Your unrealistic expectations (my opinion, of course) about how game makers should basically be starving artists is frankly unfair to game makers, and at odds with what the marketplace has shown to prefer. Only 50k to 100k people have ever downloaded Super Hexagon, a game that fits your parameters. 7.6 million people play Candy Crush Saga every day. No one is putting a gun to people's heads to play Candy Crush. I find it hard to believe they're all "mentally ill." The more plausible explanation is simply that people enjoy Candy Crush Saga, a game that's as unoriginal as anything ever. You can say they're philistines, but that doesn't mean they're wrong to enjoy what they're enjoying.
posted by shen1138 at 2:19 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can I just say everyone needs to buy Punch Quest? It is, essentially, the best thing. The best.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:33 AM on April 30, 2013


Piracy is a problem, its not simply confirmation bias. The basis for most of my statements comes from working at a mobile game company for the past couple years, and I can tell you that we very quickly abandoned making paid SKUs for Android because they were hacked and free versions of the game appeared on the app store

I didn't say it wasn't a problem. I said that the problem is largely overstated. If free versions of the game appear on the Play Store, it sounds like your problem is with Google. How did your company approach them about it?

It's convenient to hand-wave away concerns based on what you believe to be true, but its at odds with the reality game makers face.

I know more about the situation than you might expect. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I do see a lot of things that, again in my opinion, cannot continue forever.

In-app purchases are not subject to piracy the same way that the app itself is, due to server validation.

Why can't pirates hack themselves currency or consumable items? The hacking of trainers is a time-honored part of software piracy since the beginning, it doesn't seem like this would be a good overall solution, although it might stop casual pirates. However, this is the kind of thing that kids could figure out themselves with Game Genies back on the NES.

I also don't think the "chafing" phenomenon re IAP has materialized from what we've observed.

That's something I expect to happen in upcoming years. It is a prediction; I invite you to watch with me if it comes to pass or not. (I hate airy-fairy predictions that might or might not happen. I might be right or I might be wrong, but goddammit I'll make a solid statement about it and see what happens.)

In general, JHarris, I feel like your positions are driven by idealized opinions about what a "healthy marketplace" or "honest game developer" are, or that people who have ample money to spend on games they enjoy are suffering from "mental illness",

I have strong opinions, and I am idealistic, but there are reasons for them that aren't just idealism. Being able to tie that name to them doesn't prove or disprove anything.

or that purity re "original ideas" are the only ones that deserve to stay alive

They aren't the only way to stay alive, but they are the best way. Because if you aren't original in what is ultimately creative enterprise, then why the heck should anyone bother with your work?

the dissolution of Blizzard, a company built entirely on making games in time-worn genres, but has my vote for best game maker in the world

Their work is evolutionary, not revolutionary, but there is worth in evolution, it is not valueless, in fact the nature of creation is that no idea ever arises from nowhere. It's all combination and refinement, which are the same thing ultimately. They are not my favorite company however.

I think at the root of our disagreement are fundamental differences of opinion on the purpose of game development. Is it a business, or is it a discipline? Is making games the thing you do to make money, or is making money the thing that allows you to make more games?
posted by JHarris at 2:53 AM on April 30, 2013


Oh god yes, Candy Crush. I started playing as I like puzzle games, then, as I was pretty stressed at the time and my then coping mechanism was playing Solitaire all evening until I owed Windows several thousand dollars, I continued to play even though it was driving me nuts. I refused point-blank to pay £27 for an upgrade, and I dreaded the level where one could only progress if they 'requested tickets' from Facebook friends, as I don't use Facebook. Eventually I had to get my tablet replaced and my abusive relationship with the game ended.

I'd happily pay £5 upfront so I don't have to be constantly nagged to buy pixellated sweets and the like.

There's still a huge cultural barrier where people are happy to go to a theater, pay $18 for a crappy 3-d movie, $10 for popcorn and soda, but flip their shit when it comes to paying even 99 cents to permanently improve their game experience on a mobile game.

It's £10-12 for a cheap cinema ticket here, so I only like to go when I really really want to see the film, and I never buy popcorn or soda (I don't drink it). And when I do see that film, it doesn't pause half-way through asking me to buy 100 Dorito Chips if I want to see the best scenes more quickly.
posted by mippy at 4:09 AM on April 30, 2013


If you sell for an up-front cost and have in-app purchase options, 90% of the time I will delete your app the moment I find out and give you a negative review because I ALREADY PAID YOU FOR THE GAME GODDAMMIT.

Agree, except for "Here's campaign #2, if you want to suck up another 40 hours of your life, $2.99." On top of a $2.99 game that's already eaten 40 hours? I'm good with that. Shitload cheaper than Advanced Squad Leader expansions, that's for sure.

The core rule. The base game must be winnable with reasonable effort and time by paying no more than the initial cost of the game. Period.
posted by eriko at 5:37 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


shen1138 has basically nailed it. I've been a serious gamer for the past 20 years and everything he said is true: Free To Play is also Here To Stay.

Look at the standard of "serious" games that are currently free to play - SWTOR, DOTA2, LOL.

It's getting to be more and more difficult to convince people to pay money upfront for a game. It's already possible to create freemium games that make good money without an obnoxious monetization scheme. The future is going to be really strange.
posted by xdvesper at 7:48 AM on April 30, 2013


I suppose my relationship with Candy Crush Saga is a little different because my Facebook friendslist is 50% game developers, who play the hot new games as market research, so I have zero difficulty getting leveling tickets. (I basically don't pay for Facebook games, although I broke this rule with Game of Thrones: Ascent because it is a little bit awesome and my friend works there. Also, I've been playing the game continuously for six weeks.)

iOS games are a little different. I am *delighted* to pay for a game if it means they're not going to hassle me. I'm even happy to pay for premium-price-point games - Zombies, Run! is totally worth the $7.99, and the Final Fantasy ports make me happier than any other $5 I could spend. And I hate microtransactions and generally won't use them. So I'm one end of the spectrum.

On the other hand, I do think it's totally reasonable to pay money for a game someone made for me, and I wish more developers found ways to ask for money in ways that didn't feel so extortionate. The aforementioned Game of Thrones game put in an end-game feature that's totally optional but very cool (you can hatch a dragon!) but it's either a ten-dollar buy-in or somewhere between three months and a year of hitting the weekly played-7-days-in-a-row goal to accumulate enough real-money currency. I like that the option is there. And frankly it's exactly the sort of thing I'm happy to pay for. Candy Crush Saga fails there because it *is* entirely luck-based, and I am the exact flavor of stubborn that's happy to keep beating on a level until I roll the right starting setup to win it. The begging for cash just annoys me.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:30 AM on April 30, 2013


I'd actually be pretty happy to pay $10 or even $20 to play Candy Crush Saga if there was a true pay-to-buy then free play option. If you could use one upgrade per level and had to figure out which was the right one for a given level, that would add a layer of strategy that would make the game more interesting.

I'm also happy to pay them the relatively small amounts of money it costs to buy tickets to the next set of levels -- I see that as akin to buying an expansion pack.

But I think the current level I'm stuck on, which is damn near impossible without upgrades might be the end of the line for me in terms in of playing the game. I'm not willing to pay for upgrades that may or may not actually help me with this level, and I'm not enjoying playing out my turns trying to get past it without them. At least on most levels I've found them interesting and challenging and a little frustrating when I'm stuck. This one is just completely no fun at any point, and I can't imagine lucking into just the right combination of constant combos to solve it any time soon.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:56 AM on April 30, 2013


Which level, just out of curiosity?
posted by restless_nomad at 9:05 AM on April 30, 2013


181
posted by jacquilynne at 9:07 AM on April 30, 2013


Oh, yeah. That's a classic example of the ridiculous luck-dependence of the game. You can make some decisions of how to use your combos, but mostly you're just dependent on what drops where.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:19 AM on April 30, 2013


I think at the root of our disagreement are fundamental differences of opinion on the purpose of game development. Is it a business, or is it a discipline? Is making games the thing you do to make money, or is making money the thing that allows you to make more games?

I believe you're right, that this is our fundamental difference. I just want you to recognize that its very much your attitude, which many people agree with, that dooms the vision you have. To me, your position ends up being, "I want a great, well thought out, very original game that provides me hours and hours of entertainment, and I want to pay you very very little for it." Don't you see how harsh a position that seems? It's not sustainable for any indie game developer - they gotta eat too. So very very few of them do it. And because there are so few people willing to make the great original game for so little return, gaming is dominated by the companies that can afford to, which are Zynga, Supercell, King, etc.

So the next time you begrudge an indie game developer for their IAP, just know that you're helping Candy Crush Saga grind its heel that much harder into the face of indies everywhere.
posted by shen1138 at 9:34 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can make some decisions of how to use your combos, but mostly you're just dependent on what drops where.

You've just described Nethack.
posted by eriko at 11:17 AM on April 30, 2013


I just want you to recognize that its very much your attitude, which many people agree with, that dooms the vision you have.

I just want to point out that, in the long run, my attitude is the only reason to do anything. Great painters painted when the only way to make money from it was to find a rich patron. People won't play your game in fifty years if it's merely profitable now. Money is illusory. It is a prominent illusion because it is shared, you can't ignore it because you have to eat, but if just gathering it is your aim then you are chasing a shadow.

There's a reason that people make freeware games with no hope or real aim of profitability.

To me, your position ends up being, "I want a great, well thought out, very original game that provides me hours and hours of entertainment, and I want to pay you very very little for it." Don't you see how harsh a position that seems?

You don't understand my position as well as you think you do, because I do recognize you have to make money. My position is, if you chase money too avidly you sabotage your work; at worst you harm both your product's worth and its money-making potential, at best you make a money factory and nothing else. And the thing about money factories is, they never work in the long term.

It's not sustainable for any indie game developer - they gotta eat too. So very very few of them do it

Right, but I haven't said they don't, and in fact just confirmed they do. But some do do it; they shouldn't even be possible WTF that breaks my mind roll for SAN loss.

gaming is dominated by the companies that can afford to, which are Zynga, Supercell, King, etc.

The other companies are off my personal radar, which is more focused on unique and wonderful games than bloated money ticks, but Zynga, I notice, isn't the behemoth it once was.

So the next time you begrudge an indie game developer for their IAP, just know that you're helping Candy Crush Saga grind its heel that much harder into the face of indies everywhere.

I agree with eriko, I will pay for IAPs if they present new and substantial content, content the resources for which were not included in the original download -- that is part of a long-standing opinion of mine, dating back to Olden Times, that you should actually be buying something when you pay money even if it's just code and assets. Social gaming currency, however, and cheats? That feels needlessly exploitative. It might be profitable, but I don't think that profitability is sustainable, because the tendency is for companies to over-exploit it, exactly like in the subject of this post, and that will eventually cause a backlash.

Well, that's what I think -- again, I don't have all the answers.
posted by JHarris at 11:33 AM on April 30, 2013


I think 1200 gems is 74 GBP, but given that Princess Celestia is 650 gems, it doesn't really go that far :S

The Simpsons Tapped Out kind of makes me feel like this. Most of the extra characters that you need to pay for cost around $20 each. Fortunately it's a decent enough game that I can enjoy the free content without feeling like I'm really missing out by not buying more.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:25 PM on April 30, 2013


When I look for a game in the iOS library the first thing that I check is that little line that says In App Purchases. If it shows gold, cash, jewels, or anything else with a list that goes from .99 to say $49.99 I ignore it.

I might spend money on DLC for a game that I really like on PC. But I expect an iOS game to be about $1-$3 and that's it. For instance:

I would like to play Carcassonne on my iPhone. But $9.99 is too much. At least for a game on a screen that small. Maybe I'd pay that for an iPad game.

OTOH when I first got my phone I paid full price for Catan and later the add-ons.

But then I got Civ Revolution for free through another free iPhone app.

So the market seems wobbly. Most of the games I have on my phone are ones I got for free.

And then again, I have no problem spending $60 for a PC game. Go figure.
posted by Splunge at 2:57 PM on April 30, 2013


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