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How in-app purchase is( not really)? destroying the games industry
February 4, 2014 7:12 AM   Subscribe

Thomas Baekdal writes on How In-app Purchases Have Destroyed The [Game] Industry:
We have reached a point in which mobile games couldn't even be said to be a game anymore. Playing a game means that you have fun. It doesn't mean that you sit around and wait for the game to annoy you for so long that you decide to pay credits to speed it up. And for an old geezer like me who remember the glory days of gaming back in the 1990s, it's just unbearable to watch.
Drew Crawford answers:
See, in the in-app purchase model actually predates phones. It predates video game consoles. It goes all the way back to the arcade, where millions of consumers were happy to pay a whole quarter ... to pay for just a few minutes.
posted by frimble (147 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
The old beat-em-ups where your life constantly drained so it was impossible to finish a game on one credit were bullshit too.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:14 AM on February 4, 2014 [38 favorites]


Yup.
posted by Artw at 7:16 AM on February 4, 2014


> It goes all the way back to the arcade, where millions of consumers were happy to pay a whole quarter ... to pay for just a few minutes.

I'll give you that...but at least those games (the best ones, anyway) were fucking fun. I'm 40 years old and I still remember specific games of Robotron and Galaga I played when I was in grade school. Nobody is ever going to remember that game of TapTapTapTapTapTapTap where they had to pay another five bucks or whatever to skip some tapping.

/ old
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:17 AM on February 4, 2014 [20 favorites]


Wait, people still play games on their phones? I thought most phone gamers had gone away in the Great 2011 Eye-Strain Epidemic.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:17 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm not seeing a complete connection to arcade games. One of the games pictured in the article, Ms. Pac Man, could be played by a skilled player for hours on a single quarter. At no point does the game require the player to put in more money to unlock the next level.
posted by Dr-Baa at 7:19 AM on February 4, 2014 [33 favorites]


See, in the in-app purchase model actually predates phones. It predates video game consoles. It goes all the way back to the arcade, where millions of consumers were happy to pay a whole quarter ... to pay for just a few minutes.

Nah, that's just renting the game for as long as you stay alive. If it had said 25c for 1 game, or 50c for 3 games and you start on level 2 with 50,000 points, that would be more like it.
Or, on preview, as Dr-Baa said, asking you for extra 25c for each new level.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:20 AM on February 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


What gets me is how hilariously terrible the implementation tends to be, as if the designers (or more accurately, the publishers) were going out of their way to anger gamers.

As one example, the 2012 (console) Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a pretty entertaining game. But they had the bright idea of making certain cars you discover while driving around in the open world unlockable only by purchase. Couple that with a really terrible game map and you end up finding cars that you can't actually drive... over and over again. Fuck you, EA.

(plus, the car discoveries are called "Jack Spots". Really guys? Really?)
posted by selfnoise at 7:20 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


The glory days of gaming were the eighties.
posted by rfs at 7:21 AM on February 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


David Crawford is a young punk who never spent hours feeding nickles into a pinball machine.

A true pinball machine, one without flippers.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:23 AM on February 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's funny that one of the lauded parts of the game mechanic in DayZ is that there is no continue available. When you're dead, you're dead.

To see a whole generation of gamers that grew up post-Mortal Kombat/Street Fighter and it's endless continues discover this...well, it's kind of karmic to me.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:25 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Huh, well, now I'm interested with Dungeon Keeper. Should I start with 1 or 2?
posted by jcreigh at 7:28 AM on February 4, 2014


I can trace it at least as far back as the Periscope mechanical arcade game from Sega in 1966 that offers to sell you ten lives for 25 cents ($1.80 in 2013 dollars).

Periscope surely cost 10¢ in 1966, not 25¢.

The standard arcade machine pricing in the 60's was 10¢/game & 25¢/3 games.
posted by fairmettle at 7:29 AM on February 4, 2014


Um, except the old-timey arcade "in-app purchase model" generally made allowances for skill. Like, if you were good, you didn't *have* to keep pumping quarters in. So there was at least the promise (and frankly, reward) of having a good long run in the game once you got *good* at it in lieu of having to feed the beast no matter what. Arcade cabinet games didn't have to be the inverse of an ATM. (Gauntlet, 720°, I'm casting the hairy eyeball at you, you magnificent bastards)
posted by the painkiller at 7:29 AM on February 4, 2014 [7 favorites]


I've paid zero dollars for Plants vs Zombies 2 and it is joyous.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:29 AM on February 4, 2014 [6 favorites]


I've played several free(with in-app purchase games) consistently over the past year or so without spending a dime. I got my money's worth.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:32 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Huh, well, now I'm interested with Dungeon Keeper. Should I start with 1 or 2?

Amazing game. It still stands up today. I downloaded and played DK 1 on my Mac and was left wanting more.
posted by vacapinta at 7:32 AM on February 4, 2014


I've paid zero dollars for Plants vs Zombies 2 and it is joyous.

I've paid zero dollars on it, played through and wondered why I bothered because it is grindtastic. I'd sooner have paid proper money for a balanced game.
posted by Artw at 7:33 AM on February 4, 2014 [12 favorites]



The standard arcade machine pricing in the 60's was 10¢/game & 25¢/3 games.


And you got five palls per game in pinball!
posted by TedW at 7:34 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've paid zero dollars on it, played through and wondered why I bothered because it is grindtastic. I'd sooner have paid proper money for a balanced game.

Can you expound on this a bit? I found the limitations set by the challenges were the key thing that stopped it being as stupefyingly easy as the first one was. I really enjoyed it and didn't find it grindy at all.
posted by ominous_paws at 7:36 AM on February 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't really care much with mobile games -- especially as lots of paid games have free demos -- but please, real games, we want demos. There are so many games I thought might be interesting, not sure how they run on my system or if I'd enjoy them, looked for a demo, saw nothing and said screw it, let's look at a Humble Bundle.
posted by jeather at 7:43 AM on February 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


My computer's from 2008. I pretty much don't buy anything new unless it looks low-end or there's a demo.

(And some things want everything I have and more for no reason- the new Ducktales, Rogue Legacy, and Gone Home all chug hard on my machine despite none of them having any reason to.)
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:47 AM on February 4, 2014


After roughly six months of stumbling about, SOE managed to dig itself out of this hole with the free-to-play Planetside 2. At the start of the game we had all around upgrade weapons for sale on each vehicle that were utter shenanigans in game (the rocket pods for the planes have acquired the moniker 'LoLPods' and kept that name despite being balanced into submission many, many months ago). The performance was crap for low end users, the fixes included bumping everything to high so that the game was GPU limited before turning render quality and resolution percentage waaaaaay down.

Fast forward to today, the base weapons are all great and tend to be in the standard loadouts for experienced players. The incredible diversity of weapons available to each infantry class and vehicle have very distinct roles and to tread out of those roles usually means failure. Now players spend money on weapons that fit their playstyle as opposed to the flavor of the month weapons SOE had been releasing in a less-than-a-balanced-state. Performance updates made the game playable on my old computer (Core2Duo, Radeon 4650), content is arriving weekly, and there's not a thing I can point to anymore as being 'pay to win'.

They're on the right track, finally, and with the crashing of BF4 all of this was done just in time for the BF4 folks to wander over and try it out. I'm really hoping that the true side-grade nature of the PS2 purchasable weapons is replicated by other studios going forward.
posted by Slackermagee at 7:48 AM on February 4, 2014


Huh, well, now I'm interested with Dungeon Keeper. Should I start with 1 or 2?

Start with 1. It has its minor flaws and frustrating bits but is just so fun. The sound effects and interstitial narration/voice acting are especially good. 2 is good, also, but to my eyes the graphics haven't aged as well.
posted by cog_nate at 7:48 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Can you expound on this a bit? I found the limitations set by the challenges were the key thing that stopped it being as stupefyingly easy as the first one was. I really enjoyed it and didn't find it grindy at all.

I found them fiddly without being all that interesting, TBH.
posted by Artw at 7:50 AM on February 4, 2014


Another objection to Drew Crawford's post is that game developers aren't concerned solely about revenue - they're concerned about game quality.

It may well be that freemium games are the way to make lots of cash because they can harness the whole cost curve and they're one of the few ways of coping with the new world of the packed App Store, but they sure as shit ain't good games. I say this as someone who makes 'paid' games and has also wasted far too much time playing freemium stuff like Farmville and Cityville.

One way to alleviate this is by improving app discovery. On both iOS and Android, the primary mode of discovery is through the top 50 charts, and by editorial picks. Both stores make a genuine effort to feature interesting apps but they only have so much store 'real estate'. If people can get more ways to find apps, whether that's through things like an Android Humble Bundle Store or by opening up the iOS App Store, then we'll see more apps do well.
posted by adrianhon at 7:51 AM on February 4, 2014 [7 favorites]


We'll never get PC games on mobile/Android/iOS as long as people are conditioned to expect to play a dollar two for a game. You might as well give the game away at that price, so developers do. To make up costs the pay-to-play model is necessary.

The worst thing done to the software market in the past decade is the decision taken to cap mobile app prices at less than $5. This guarantees that "real" games are always going to struggle to find a place on phones and tablets. The market, right now, won't pay $40 to $70+ per game on a phone, while the same consumers don't think twice about that price for a console or a PC game.

It also implies that real productivity apps are going to have a hard road on tablets. Fifty dollars is a shocking price to many for a tablet app, but that doesn't allow for anything more than the cut-down cheap versions like PS Elements. I'd love to have something like Aperture on a tablet, for example, but it's hard to justify with the present pricing models.
posted by bonehead at 7:52 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Having recently succumbed to the time-suck that is Candy Crush, I was reminded of something I found in a store in Boston's Chinatown back in the late 80's: an alarm clock. In the shape of a cow. With two alarm settings. One was your standard buzzer. The other? A recorded message that said, "Get up. Stop sleeping your life away. Get up."

How I wish I had the 30 bucks then to buy it.
posted by wensink at 7:55 AM on February 4, 2014 [8 favorites]


As one example, the 2012 (console) Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a pretty entertaining game. But they had the bright idea of making certain cars you discover while driving around in the open world unlockable only by purchase. Couple that with a really terrible game map and you end up finding cars that you can't actually drive... over and over again. Fuck you, EA.

I'm so glad I have the game only on Vita, where this isn't a thing. If you find a car, it's yours.


What has been annoying me is the "locked box" thing in MMOs where you find some loot, but you can't actually have it unless you buy keys with real money. And it's still just random loot, including individual pieces of something that you want to have all the pieces of.

I have no problem spending a reasonable, small amount of extra money on a game to unlock some new optional stuff -- costumes, etc. -- but I want to know what it is I'm paying for.

I do my gambling through Powerball, where my two bucks have a very tiny chance of turning into a couple hundred million bucks... instead of having a small chance of turning into one piece of a 9-piece armor set for a virtual character that I'll be done playing in a few weeks anyway.
posted by Foosnark at 7:57 AM on February 4, 2014


Can you expound on this a bit? I found the limitations set by the challenges were the key thing that stopped it being as stupefyingly easy as the first one was. I really enjoyed it and didn't find it grindy at all.

I got the impression that some of the challenges were impossible to complete without purchasing some of the IAP power-ups. I mean, maybe I'm just not good enough at the game, maybe you can complete them without the power-ups, but the fact that the IAP power-ups exist at all means that I can't tell. If I knew I had all the resources possible available to me I'd know for sure that I just needed to improve my strategy, but with the IAPs there... I can never be sure if I'm not good enough or the IAPs are required to complete the game.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:58 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


I used to love playing smallworld fantasy baseball and basketball (and was quite good at it - I was in the top 40 one year for baseball) and then they went with a pay for extra trades model and suddenly I was completely out competed by people with money to burn. I never went back and completely abandoned fantasy sports altogether. That was over a decade ago.
posted by srboisvert at 7:58 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Drew Crawford response is detailed, fascinating and well worth reading along with the first link:
The fundamental problem with selling games is that you have 150,000 games that you could play instead... This is, basically, a problem that is unique to the games market... unique to mobile...

People like to reminisce about the glory days of shareware but back then there weren’t 150,000 titles either. DOS games indexes some 600 shareware titles. The Internet Archive indexes some 2,400 items in its “shareware CD collection” that includes such exciting titles as “The Linux Format Magazine Issue 177” and “HP Web Mouse Suite”. Basically, the number of actual shareware games you could realistically run on your computing platform did not number in the thousands.

Another topic that gets lost in this conversation is market segmentation... The magic of IAP is it allows a software developer to segment its market; to take in the $.10 in ad spend that the elementary school kid can pay, the $5 that the college student with a side job can pay, and the $100 that the suburban housewife can pay... 51% of all revenue is a transaction over $20...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:59 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


I recently watched an interesting presentation by Ara Shirinian about Free-to-Play mechanics. He discusses some of the more devious tricks that F2P devs use, and gets into the psychology of the reward systems used in those games.

Some of the gating is pretty subtle. For example, on Jetpack Joyride, there are certain configurations of obstacles that will sometimes appear that are impossible to dodge if you are in the wrong part of the screen, because your view is limited. So eventually one of those will take you down, no matter how good you are. And some is less subtle. According to him, on level 35 in Candy Crush, with perfect play, a player has only a 2% chance of passing without buying a "boost". That hardly seems like a game to me.
posted by jcreigh at 8:03 AM on February 4, 2014 [10 favorites]


The problem isn't inherently with IAP (Crawford explains its necessity in the marketplace), the problem is that many game publishers/makers are implementing it in unethical, exploitive ways. Crawford's stuck in a decade-old microtransaction debate, which we've since seen played out to its extremes. Now, we're discussing the extremes at play in 2014, and he's talking about 1966. Ugh.

He even says this:
I would certainly be interested to watch some iOS dev try this model, but I suspect a $65 upsell is quite a lot harder in 2014 than it was in 1993.

Which proves he's not even paying attention to the theory he sees so many problems with — in Baekdal's HN piece, the cited Dungeon Keeper example sells a £60 package that doesn't unlock the game. That's the problem being discussed.

DREW: THESE UPSELLS ARE ACTUALLY HAPPENING. THEY ARE WORSE THAN YOU IMAGINE. RTFA.
posted by pokermonk at 8:03 AM on February 4, 2014 [10 favorites]


I wish there was an app store filter flag that allowed me to search for games that are not freemium games. I have fun with free hobbyist games and fun with full-price-up-front games, and fun with demos that led to buying the full game, but I have a lot of difficulty finding these games amongst the huge morass of freemium shit.
posted by anonymisc at 8:04 AM on February 4, 2014 [22 favorites]


I think it's also worth pointing out that the $6 GoG price is for a very old game. Most of the costs have already been paid for by the initial release which, as I recall, was in line with what any first-rank PC game at the time cost ($40? my memory isn't the best). So DK1 and DK2 and all the expansions, already paid for. GoG is a great company, but they don't have to make back the margins Bioware or EA do on new games.

It's better to compare, in my view, the GTA releases. The new GTA 5 game runs $40 to $60, depending on where you buy it, a few months after launch. The Android version is two versions back, GTA III, and priced at $5. That's a 13-year-old game, at a price point very similar to the GoG pricing for the DK legacy package.

That's the context I see for the present DK mobile release. They could have taken the Rockstar route and released the old game at around $5, but they seem to think they'll make more by this pay-to-play strategy. We'll continue to get such games, I think, as long as we continue to expect to pay nothing for games on mobile devices.
posted by bonehead at 8:05 AM on February 4, 2014


For what it's worth, in my opinion in-app purchases can be done tastefully or badly, and that's up to the developer. We don't really have a full picture of what that implies, but the Jetpack Joyride model that lets you buy amounts of game-coins to obtain in-game stuff that would otherwise be fairly grindy to see is a good point of reference, as is the Where's My Water 2 use of IAP, which in the beginning amounts to "make any in-app purchase you want, and we'll turn off the ads", both of which seem reasonably good and not offensively pay-to-play.

Having said that: the elephant in the room when we're talking about IAP - especially on mobile - is that the #1 reason they're so compelling to developers is that they make piracy irrelevant.
posted by mhoye at 8:11 AM on February 4, 2014


Having said that the elephant in the room when we're talking about IAP on mobile games is that the main reason they're so compelling to developers is that they make piracy irrelevant.

I think this is a weak argument. If I accept your premise that IAP are uncrackable, there's still no reason to implement them in an exploitative way. You could just have a free download and IAP for the full version.

I don't illegally copy stuff anymore so I don't know what the piracy situation on IAP is, but I would be really surprised if they haven't already been cracked on jailbroken iOS/Android.
posted by zixyer at 8:15 AM on February 4, 2014


All I have to say is 'Wizard shot the food'.
posted by Monkeymoo at 8:18 AM on February 4, 2014 [7 favorites]


Is piracy really a big problem on mobile? The walled gardens make it much harder, do they not? Sideloading a bit easier on Android than iOS, but there's a lot more protection for developers on both than was ever present on PCs of any type.
posted by bonehead at 8:18 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you wish to read more comments on this thread, please wait 24 hours or purchase more MetaJewels!
posted by Riton at 8:18 AM on February 4, 2014 [24 favorites]


It's incredibly clear how most people in this thread are gamers, and not involved in the industry in any way except buying and playing games.
posted by TheFlamingoKing at 8:19 AM on February 4, 2014


Having said that the elephant in the room when we're talking about IAP on mobile games is that the main reason they're so compelling to developers is that they make piracy irrelevant.

I think it's more John Walker is wrong about games development not needing money and that downward price preasure, in the mobile sphere especially, means its hard to make money back on a game from just the purchase price alone and alternate models need to be tried.

And it just so happens that the most successful one of those is basically satanic.
posted by Artw at 8:20 AM on February 4, 2014


It's incredibly clear how some people in this thread are part of the game industry, by the sneering disregard they have for their customers.
posted by zixyer at 8:21 AM on February 4, 2014 [29 favorites]


I've been playing a great racing game on iOS called Real Racing 3. Start with a car, win some races, get some cash, upgrade car, repeat, buy a different car, repeat. If you bash up your car too badly during a race you have to pay a little cash to repair it, which is a small incentive to drive cleanly.

After about a day of playing, you get to the waiting game. Repairing a car can take upwards of 90 minutes of waiting. Buying a new car can take 10 hours to have it "delivered". Buying a engine upgrade can take 3 hours to have it "installed". You can pay real cash to have these times eliminated.

There are cars you can buy with the cash you earn in the game, and there are cars that can only be purchased with real cash. It's a great game and I'd happily pay $5 to have it, but at this point I'm not giving it any money out of spite.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:21 AM on February 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


The first article seems to be unfocused and complains about the wrong problem. The second article then runs with it and also doesn't seem to specifically acknowledge the problem.

In app purchases are not inherently bad. It's just that the current trend in game design is to not make games. And according to the second article it's pretty profitable. And that's probably ok, because ultimately these not games are made for people who don't want to play games. They are obviously not made for the guy in the first article. The only tragedy here is this is what happens when the market opens up and starts producing for the millions of new people who don't play games , which then drives the industry further in the direction of not making games.
posted by grizzly at 8:29 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm fine with small-scale mobile games going with the freemium model because that's one of the only viable business models at that level and because the competition is strong enough to ensure that there are a lot of different options out there. But in-app purchases are also seeping into major AAA titles where I think it's doing a lot more damage in terms of making games a frustrating experience. I don't want to play $60 for a game and have the choice between grinding for hours or paying $20 to bypass the grinding, especially when the developers purposely make the experience less fun without paying for upgrades.

For example, NBA 2K14 for next gen consoles is pretty much the same as it's always been. But all of the modes have been re-tooled to use virtual credits for upgrades, and you have the option of either grinding through the game without the upgrades to earn them, or paying for credits directly. So if you're playing the GM mode, you'll be unable to sign decent players and make reasonable trades until you spend hours and hours earning enough credits to level up your character to be able to do those things. Previous versions of the game didn't have that kind of mechanic because it effectively stops you from being able to do the things that are actually fun about that game mode until you pay the fee to unlock them. There's another mode that involves collecting player cards that's pretty much completely unplayable without spending money or slowly earning credits in other game modes, because the player cards you collect from winning games only have a certain amount of games worth of plays on them, and you'll never be able to collect enough from winning to replenish your team, you always have to buy new card packs with credits to have anyone decent.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:30 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


The old beat-em-ups where your life constantly drained so it was impossible to finish a game on one credit were bullshit too.

At one point the only game in our student center (circa '95) was a mindless beat-'em-up clone where you and three friends could get hosed playing as weird little space commandos. One day the repairman forgot to lock the joystick panel back in place and 5 seconds after we discovered that fact we discovered how to push the little override button inside to give ourselves free time. We spent free periods playing the hell out of it, periodically clearing the screen so we could lift the lid off as a group while one player ducked inside to fill everyone back up to 9000 time.

That's the one gaming event from the glorious video game past I wish happened now because there'd be some poor slob in charge of monitoring playing habits getting to see how badly we were screwing the company.
posted by yerfatma at 8:31 AM on February 4, 2014


IAP is certainly not destroying the game industry. I mean, yes, it has destroyed Dungeon Keeper but that's EA being the genital warts of the gaming industry. (A disturbingly large portion of the industry has been exposed to EA, they have an annoying tendency of popping up on previously promising properties, and while one can be conscientious and avoid them personally eradication on a larger scale looks unlikely.)

There is a difference between gross receipts and popularity. The top grossing games on the iOS App Store are the IAP heavyweights; Candy Crush, Clash of Clans, Hay Day, with other regulars like Simpsons Tapped Out, Puzzle & Dragons, other Blank Blank Saga games, Slotomania et al. popping in and out of the top ten. No surprises there, as they're carefully crafted to extract maximum dollars from players.

But on the popularity indexes, things are different. There is still plenty of room for a simple, self-contained game to go viral in the right way and soar for a while. Games like Tiny Wings, 10000000, and Flappy Bird bubble to the top without grossing billions; they succeeded without riding the IAP pony, to a degree specifically _because_ they avoided it. Even some megagames are subtler with their IAP; Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Cut The Rope all started small.

The balancing act can be interesting to watch, especially on multiplayer freemium games because those collapse without free players continuing to play, but also collapse if they don't bring in enough whales. Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates has been walking that tightrope for a decade plus now and is still chugging along, for example. The big grossing iOS games are there because they encourage the cheapskates _just_ enough to keep them interested. Others struggle with that weighting.
posted by delfin at 8:36 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


I buy and play a ton of games, and though I try to avoid IAP I don't think it's inherently evil.

But I downloaded DK this weekend to show my boys (because my GOD I loved that game back in the day) and it took me about 30 seconds to realize it was a disaster. It's truly one of the worst examples of Pay to Win -- or in this case really Pay to Play -- I've ever seen and I deleted it immediately over the howls of my kids, who thought it looked totally cool. Then we had to talk about the difference between a good game that is worth paying for and a cynical pile of junk designed to suck money out of you without giving you any pleasure at all. So we had that talk. So, thanks EA, for the teachable moment with my six and eight year olds.
posted by The Bellman at 8:37 AM on February 4, 2014 [9 favorites]


IAP are not inherently evil. IAP that breaks game balance or makes game balance not even a thing is evil.
posted by Artw at 8:40 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Wait, you actually download mobile app games? Why not just watch the walk-through video? Thrilling action!
posted by filthy light thief at 8:41 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Crawford has some interesting research but the arcade comparison is so completely disingenuous it leaves a bad taste in my mouth that won't go away as I consider the rest of his argument.
posted by mediareport at 8:41 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


See, in the in-app purchase model actually predates phones. It predates video game consoles.

Casting IAP as a predator doesn't really make it seem any cooler.
posted by iotic at 8:42 AM on February 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


Gaming is alive and well. Gaming on phones and tablets is terrible. It's worth noting that.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:43 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


As someone who was a youthful pinball wizard, I have to say that the "arcade" response is bull. The comparison is completely broken. Sure, it cost a quarter to play pinball, but there was only one table shared by everyone. And, skill alone could win free games. And, even if you didn't win, you could " match" the last two numbers of your score with a random generator at the end to win a free game, anyway.

The new guys are piggy, piggy, piggy, is what I'm saying.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:43 AM on February 4, 2014 [7 favorites]


My first introduction to fremium gaming was Kingdom of Loathing, with their items of the month. Definitely one of the examples I'd point to as doing it right.
posted by bonehead at 8:43 AM on February 4, 2014 [11 favorites]


There are many at least a handful of great mobile games out there. Here's one: Hoplite. It's a challenging rogue-like, unlike many mobile games it actually makes sense to play on a touchscreen, and it's $1.99 and has none of this bullshit.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:44 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Artw: IAP are not inherently evil. IAP that breaks game balance or makes game balance not even a thing is evil.

I disagree. I think the "evil" IAPs are the one that unlock the rest of the game, because you're not playing a full game, you're just playing the demo. Unbalancing IAPs only matter if you're playing for points, or in a competitive scenario. Otherwise, why not let people spend money on speeding up the game if they want to? In most cases, those are throttled grinding games, like Farmville and Plants vs Zombies. If the grind is enough fun, you don't mind it, but if you can only progress so far in an hour unless you invite more friends or pay $1, then I will scowl at such a game and never touch it, but that doesn't mean the game is not fun for someone.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:45 AM on February 4, 2014


sonic meat machine: Gaming is alive and well. Gaming on phones and tablets is terrible. It's worth noting that.

I will admit to downloading the free version of Angry Birds: Star Wars Edition for the Kindle Fire, and enjoying it a ton.

Protip for those playing bannerware: turn your device onto Airplane Mode and viola - no more banners! Of course, now you have an off-line device, but that's the price you pay for not paying for that particular game.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:46 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


The balancing act can be interesting to watch, especially on multiplayer freemium games because those collapse without free players continuing to play, but also collapse if they don't bring in enough whales.

A friend plays a mobile MMO that's got a great one - you either pay to level up or slowly grind it, and of you pay your clan gets prizes (they don't say from who though - missed opportunity for peer preasure). For the most part the people who have paid don't hassle the grinders as there is no incentive to do so - they don't get many points out of it - but the company sets regular "challenges", which pay inhale currency when you participate. One of these is to kill as many players as possible in a set time, regardless of level. So, effectively, the company pays players to cull anyone who hasn't payed to level up.
posted by Artw at 8:47 AM on February 4, 2014


I disagree. I think the "evil" IAPs are the one that unlock the rest of the game, because you're not playing a full game, you're just playing the demo.

As long as this is explicit, I think it's great. I like demos. This is a very convenient way to do a demo.
posted by jeather at 8:48 AM on February 4, 2014 [9 favorites]


I disagree. I think the "evil" IAPs are the one that unlock the rest of the game, because you're not playing a full game, you're just playing the demo.

I am not sure why anyone would have a problem with this at all - you get to see if you like the game before you pay, that's great. Of course, you don't see it too much anymore.
posted by Artw at 8:48 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


My first introduction to fremium gaming was Kingdom of Loathing, with their items of the month. Definitely one of the examples I'd point to as doing it right.

That's basically Valve's silly hat model isn't it? I'd say that's pretty benign.
posted by Artw at 8:49 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Gaming is alive and well. Gaming on phones and tablets is terrible. It's worth noting that.

There's been some great games, but I've a feeling it may have peaked a few years back and we're on the tail end. IAP driven games would be both cause and symptom.
posted by Artw at 8:52 AM on February 4, 2014


Gaming is alive and well. Gaming on phones and tablets is terrible. It's worth noting that.

SteamOS will have a built in MP3 player that you can access in game and will use music you have stored on the system or LAN. No more Alt-tabbing to change a song or whatever.

I have been dreaming of this for so many years, to finally see it come to fruition......

I need a moment.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:55 AM on February 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


I've got a few friends in the industry. One of them recently started his own game (as opposed to working for someone else). He is insisting on an upfront pay model. I understand his logic, his point is that you need a high conversion rate, and to really get that you need to get players to know about your game, which is ever harder to do when the big boys are in town. Yes, you can have a breakout hit, but most of the time you need to plan to execute something that stands on its own merits, get it out there, push the awareness of it as hard as you can and hope. The best game won't make a damn bit of money if its never heard of. And there are a LOT of shit games out there, because they're free so people end up going for it which ends up cluttering the store with really bad quality games or "games".

My friend believes that there are ways to do IAP right that don't feed that addictive pulse, but he's decided to not use that model. I wish him well. I admit that I am spoiled by "free" and cheap. I told him, I'd like a demo, but he believes demos are bad, because you don't get to see the full depth of a game if it's any type of game more than a simple puzzle game, for example. The other issue is that a demo takes time away from making a better game. Put the effort into making a solid quality game first.

I've gotten suckered into paying a lot of money on two games. I refuse to play Candy Crush Saga, because if it really is that bad, I know I'd end up paying. Alien Hive is the evil one that I gave money to. But when it comes to a GOOD game that I mostly didn't feel taken advantage of it's Triple Town. Funny thing is, on the PC version, you literally CANNOT buy things with money - it's the full game in itself, which means you can't as easily hit the high scores that you can on Android or Facebook, because you can't buy your way to points. It's a little frustrating, because it means you have to play longer to hit the same point. But I think I'm glad I just had to pay a one time fee and not worry about losing my ass in IAP.
posted by symbioid at 9:01 AM on February 4, 2014


A bit more than hats. IoTM were valuable, but generally not game-breaking. However, they could also be had via the in-game economy. Even those who chose not to pay could often get one through a few days of grinding.

At $10, I looked at it as a voluntary monthly subscription fee.
posted by bonehead at 9:01 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


The old beat-em-ups where your life constantly drained so it was impossible to finish a game on one credit were bullshit too.

Nuh uh because Final Fight
posted by Hoopo at 9:05 AM on February 4, 2014


It's incredibly clear how most people in this thread are gamers, and not involved in the industry in any way except buying and playing games.

I'm a veteran of the game industry and worked for a company that did upsells (not really "in-app"). And I don't think my opinion is too far out of the average here: in-app purchases can be done well, or they can be done badly.

- Good: paying for cool extra stuff.

- Usually good: paying for more content: extra chapters/expansions, or the shareware model.

- Questionable: "pay to win" -- paying for in-game gear necessary to complete the game or to be competitive in multiplayer.

- Poor: paying to relieve tedium, to bypass obstacles designed solely to get you to spend money.


Another way to put this: is the customer paying you to get something desirable, or are they paying you a bribe to mitigate a bad experience?
posted by Foosnark at 9:06 AM on February 4, 2014 [25 favorites]


Isn't "discoverability" a synonym for "some form of quality control" or "the Nintendo Seal of Quality" or "posted to mefi on a friday"? It seems mobile games are a bit like Atari 2600 games in their trash heap abundance.

Also, what was the monetization model for those friday flash games we played before there were "casual" or "mobile" games?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:09 AM on February 4, 2014


IAP are not inherently evil. IAP that breaks game balance or makes game balance not even a thing is evil.

I would say the inherently evil aspect of IAP is that it gives developers incentive to focus on making the game more expensive to play, if that makes any sense. In the traditional model, the revenue a company makes from a game is directly proportional to how many people buy the game so the only real incentive is to make a game that appeals to the highest number of potential game buyers as possible (hence the move in the gaming industry from innovative niche games to established genres and franchises).

With a business model centered around some or all of the revenue coming from in-game purchases, the way to make a profit becomes about milking as much money from any given player as possible. The ways of doing that may or may not have a big impact on the gameplay, but the mindset of designing a system that extracts money from people is a much different one than the mindset of trying to make a fun experience free of those concerns. A casino can do a lot to make the experience of being there fun, but at the end of the day everything they do is about making sure that everyone who walks in has less money when they walk out.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:15 AM on February 4, 2014 [7 favorites]


But when it comes to a GOOD game that I mostly didn't feel taken advantage of it's Triple Town.

I think the reason for that is that their payment system was set up basically as demo/full game. The game's free on the app store but you only get maybe an hour or two's uninterrupted game play before you have to start waiting for turns. Five bucks unlocks the game, and then they never bother you again. I play that thing constantly and I'm not even sure how to give them more money; I feel like that's a really fair payment method.

On the other hand, there's Fruit Ninja which for a long time was free and recently switched to a pay-to-win model that completely drove me away from it. Constant barrages of notifications to buy upgrades, plus more intrusive in-game ads (were there ads before? I don't even remember). They did the same thing to Jetpack Joyride and it seems like a pretty shitty thing to do to your customer base. They both use to sell in-game currency for real money, but it was a very unobtrusive thing - now it's just a constant push to give them more money.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:16 AM on February 4, 2014


Also, what was the monetization model for those friday flash games we played before there were "casual" or "mobile" games?

Advertising. Which either seems to have lost viability as a model or was never really viable in the first place.
posted by Artw at 9:16 AM on February 4, 2014


God, how I love Plants Vs Zombies 2 (the drama of the siege, the light strategising, the once-fiendish challenges), but the in-app purchases are stupidly expensive. €3.59 for a Torchwood? Like, I would actually be happy to pay it, but I would just feel too much a fool after, so I don't.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 9:16 AM on February 4, 2014


Part of the problem is that the pricing for IAP is way out of whack. Some of the stuff you're expected to pay a dollar a piece for is outrageous.

Not only that but these IAPs never have a way to pay a fair price to circumvent the revenue stream. It's constant monetization as long as you want to play the game.

So I end up spending very, very little on IAP. It's just not worth it when you consider how much money you'd have to be to play a game "regularly". I usually just spend money where there's substantial content involved.

What really grinds my gears is Candy Crush. They have the gall to ask 99c to speed up the acquisition of an episode of their fucking live gated, move gated game?
posted by Talez at 9:19 AM on February 4, 2014


Oh and Dungeon Keeper has a line of gem walls that goes from one mine to another. To knock out the 12 walls with gems (which take 24h to burrow through normally) would cost 6,000 gems.

6,500 gems is $50.

$45 to break through a wall to get to a mine to skip two weeks of monotony.

THAT IS FUCKED UP AND THIS GAME SHOULD DIE IN A DITCH.
posted by Talez at 9:23 AM on February 4, 2014 [15 favorites]


One of the games pictured in the article, Ms. Pac Man, could be played by a skilled player for hours on a single quarter. At no point does the game require the player to put in more money to unlock the next level.

No one becomes an expert at Ms. Pac Man without grinding for hours and hours and hours, and paying for it a quarter at a time.

At least with Free 2 Play games you usually have a choice between grinding and paying.
posted by straight at 9:33 AM on February 4, 2014


Even worse than Dungeon Keeper is the iOS port of Tales of Phantasia, a classic SNES/PS1 RPG. The port (not a remake! It's the same sprites, story, dungeons, etc) is locked to a new difficulty level that's harder than the original game's Hard mode, and they cut out most of the mid-dungeon save points. Instead, if you die in battle, you can pay $1.99 for an instant revival item.

Evil.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:34 AM on February 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


It cost me $20 to finish the arcade version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was the most I ever spent at the arcade but totally worth it.

I spent $3 for more coins in Plants vs. Zombies, but PvZ2 suuuuuuuuucks!!!!

The rest is silence.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:37 AM on February 4, 2014


According to him, on level 35 in Candy Crush, with perfect play, a player has only a 2% chance of passing without buying a "boost". That hardly seems like a game to me.

It's possible to get those boosts without spending money. But yeah, Candy Crush is a horrible luck-based grind.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:46 AM on February 4, 2014


I was a little complaint-y about Square Enix's prices for the Final Fantasy ports---ranging from $8 to $16---but after reading that about Tales of Phantasia... no. I am glad they did what they did, which is to port the game and rework the art a bit, and did not include any of that nonsense. Especially since my chances of eventually sitting down and going through the early FF games on my PS2 was approaching nil, and now I am almost done with FF I and will install 2 when I'm done.

Talez: How you're feeling about Dungeon Keeper is really sad, because it was a great game... on the PC. By all descriptions, the phone port should die in a ditch. In the meantime: Dungeon Keeper and DK2 on GoG.
posted by seyirci at 9:48 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


A bit more than hats. IoTM were valuable, but generally not game-breaking. However, they could also be had via the in-game economy. Even those who chose not to pay could often get one through a few days of grinding.

Puzzle Pirates had a similar system once doubloon oceans were introduced, which quickly soared past subscription oceans in popularity. In those, you could play all of the basic game functions all you wanted, and certain others on particular days of the week. If you wanted premium features -- playing any game any day of the week, owning your own ships, holding officer ranks in a crew, a shinier outfit, a pet, et cetera -- you had to pay the premium doubloon currency.

But here's the big difference between KoL/YPP and modern games -- you could buy the premium currency with common currency on a player-to-player bazaar as well as with straight cash from the developers. The Mall in KoL and the Doubloon Exchange in YPP are nearly games in and of themselves, where crafty and observant players can earn enough to get the same benefits that the credit-card guy gets quickly. In the DragonVale and its spiritual successors world, you can buy common coins with premium gems but pointedly not the other way around; you either wait for gems to trickle in or you bust out the Visa.
posted by delfin at 9:53 AM on February 4, 2014


Both essays are great, thank you for linking them together in this post. The common ground is that in-app purchases are not necessarily evil, particularly if they allow the market segmentation Crawford discusses. What's evil are predatory IAPs, games that are designed largely to convince you to pay for things rather than games that are designed to deliver fun. The Dungeon Keeper travesty is a great example of that kind of abuse. (Also wow what market segmentation; they offer a $100 IAP option. Yikes.)
posted by Nelson at 10:06 AM on February 4, 2014


I will gladly pay a little to make ads go away in game. No issue there, the guys making the game need to eat, right?

But taking a game I paid for and then continually nickel and diming me? No way. Even Angry Birds, which I felt at first was good about this, has started nagging me. Every level in the game is beatable at a 3 star level with the birds they hand you. This is a challenge, and I want to do it, because I can play a level whenever I want, so it's a good little time waster for waiting rooms or whatever. But now they start adding in power-ups. OK, fine, I ignore them and don't want to use them - my son likes them, because it makes the level easier and he's 4, so whatever. I don't want them and he doesn't buy them, he just uses the few free ones they throw at him when he opens the game. So I go on ignoring them - and now, they start intruding on the game play, asking me "Hey you are having a hard time, wanna cheat? First taste is free". No goddamnit, I don't want the power-up and leave me alone. I don't care that I just replayed the level three times, I am shooting for perfection, not mere completion. I say no, and try to keep playing. So they escalate. Last time, it not only asked if I want to use a power up, it automatically enabled one and I HAD to use it, I couldn't back out, which pissed me right the fuck off and to be honest I haven't played the game since. So congrats, guys, you took a fan who had purchased every game you'd put out so far - all the Angry Birds variants, plus Bad Piggies, on both iPhone and the HD iPad versions, and you managed to make me not want to give you any more business. You alienated a player who was giving you money, because you got greedy and decided I wasn't giving you ENOUGH money. I can't see this as a good model.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:08 AM on February 4, 2014 [19 favorites]


The $99 gem megapack option is standard now... What's worse is that people actually buy them.
posted by Artw at 10:09 AM on February 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


I thought the reply was interesting. Even if I don't totally buy the arcade games theory he said a lot more than that. And basically the problem is you can make a lot more money by having in app purchases. The stats I've heard are free-to-play games make 4-5 as much as games where you pay upfront.

My boyfriend's a mobile game developer so our life is pretty much funded by IAP. He is really careful to make sure that his games are fun without needing to pay extra and you never have to wait, but even so it is shocking how much people will spend on in app purchases. For a while he was charging a dollar for the game but when those sales started dropping off, he made it free for a week and made my yearly salary in that week. That's insane. And it fits seem like it's worth putting ads in a free game, not for the ad revenue but because a decent amount of people will pay $1 to get rid of them.

Glad to see other people like triple town. That's the only game I've ever made an in app purchase in and I don't regret that at all.
posted by carolr at 10:11 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Triple Town actually fakes having worse IAP than it actually has, which is interesting. Looking at the purchase options you would totally expect to be gouged but the on-time unlock is pretty reasonable.
posted by Artw at 10:13 AM on February 4, 2014


I don't mind IAPs in games. Because I've found in most games I can either get along without them or enjoy them enough to make it worth a few purchases.

Most of what is being churned out for mobile devices right now are not games, though. They are psychological and social engineering tricks designed to separate people from their money.
posted by nubs at 10:32 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'd be totally ok with a demo model where the game works fully for free, but you pay a set cost to unlock the full content. As far as IAP, I've managed to find plenty of games where IAPs exist but aren't really necessary. For example in PvZ2 it's pretty easy to play along building up the virtual coins and then occasionally spending some of them to fire off an extra power up. At least for me this required zero grinding of coins. Or I play a tower defense game called Towers n Trolls which is, ya know, decent and the rate at which I seem to build up gems normally is enough to keep getting upgrades for free.

What I would like is for the app store to include the IAP stuff in the game price/search logic. Like, what games cost say $9.99 but then have zero IAPs, and what games that are "Free" are not actually free?
posted by freecellwizard at 10:43 AM on February 4, 2014


According to him, on level 35 in Candy Crush, with perfect play, a player has only a 2% chance of passing without buying a "boost".

I'm a really incompetent and casual game player, but I reached level 165 in Candy Crush without paying a penny.

Similarly, I've had a lot of fun out of Clash of Clans without spending a dime.

Best game I've played in ages though, was Little Inferno. Absolutely great fun for 69p.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:44 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


> "It goes all the way back to the arcade, where millions of consumers were happy to pay a whole quarter ... to pay for just a few minutes."

The definition of "happy" that includes "resentful and angry and I very soon stopped bothering" is one that I had never encountered until now.
posted by kyrademon at 10:45 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think its fair to say that all models of monetizing a game are going to have some perverse incentives.

Some things to consider:
In games like Clash of Clans, the maximum lifetime value of a player is basically unbounded. Individual players can (and do!) pay tens of thousands of dollars to play the game. There are some players who value the Clash of Clans experience at $0, and that is what they pay. The IAP model allows SuperCell to achieve really effective market segmentation, they are extracting from each player as much as that player is willing to pay for the game.

Your average Call of Halo Modern Gun game has a higher revenue per user, but the lifetime value of a player is capped at something relatively low. If a potential player values the game at less than the retail price, they just don't pay it. If they value the game at more than the retail price, then the developer will fail to capture that value. As a developer, that really sucks, especially since the marginal cost of a player is pretty low (unless you are dealing with more of a service-type game with a serious backend component, like WoW). This is why you see an increasing trend of DLC, collectors editions, etc., its a way for developers to get more value from the players who are more enthusiastic about the game.
posted by rustcrumb at 10:46 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm not seeing the problem with extracting money from people. In the "glory days" of gaming, we pounded quarter after quarter into the machines, because they were designed to make us do that. It was part of the addiction.

If anything's killing gaming nowadays, it's bad design and people wanting something for nothing. This results in Flappybirds. Someone upthread mentioned having spent a little cash on PvZ I's coins. That seems to have to do with the ingeniously friendly way the game encourages it.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 10:50 AM on February 4, 2014


The Arcade game economic model worked as it did because it was a scarce resource, and by paying for a limited time on it, the resource could be shared. The resource in this case being the arcade cabinet (or pinball machine) - during the arcade's heyday, they were advanced graphics computers that required an army of engineers to design and program.

Arcades fell right out of favor as home consoles began to approach the quality of coin-op video games, because paying by the life is bullshit.

In-app purchase oriented games have a different economic model. They are legitimized and systematized cheating, which is why it's tolerated - the players feel they're getting away with something. It's kind of a sleazy deal all around.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:01 AM on February 4, 2014 [8 favorites]


And that leads to the big flaw with pay-to-win IAP - the base game gets to be unreasonably, frustratingly difficult (or just tedious) in order to get people to pay extra to finish a level, while the IAPs go the other way and give the player a "win" button, because if the game is still a challenge after you "cheat" then it seems like the cheat was a waste of money. In a poorly designed F2P game, there isn't even an attempt to hit the sweet spot where fun lives.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:11 AM on February 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


No one becomes an expert at Ms. Pac Man without grinding for hours and hours and hours, and paying for it a quarter at a time.

Depends on how good you consider to be "expert," but generally I disagree.

At least with Free 2 Play games you usually have a choice between grinding and paying.

With Ms. Pac-Man, the money you pay to get better is still spent playing, and the improvement is in your own mind, the strategies and reactions you use in reacting to the game, rather than an artificial improvement that comes because you killed X rats.
posted by JHarris at 11:16 AM on February 4, 2014 [9 favorites]


To Slap*Happy's point, I'll add that I have stopped playing pretty much all mobile games that have any multiplayer element at all, partly because I don't like the idea that my opponent has bought some power-up that is helping him beat me. I am also pretty uncomfortable with the open-ended nature of the IAPs and the idea that some people with addictive personalities are spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars. It'd be better if games just had a set series of expansions/add-ons each with some reasonable price. I feel bad for people who get sucked in to spending huge amounts of money.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:28 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


The question I have in reading all of this is why do you play these games that are varying degrees of exploitative? Or maybe you don't and this is just pointing out the bad examples? Is the enjoyment greater enough than the annoyance of IAP? It doesn't sound like it from this thread. I'm not asking these questions out of snark but out of curiosity (as an ex-game player who logged uncountable hours on Civilization and NHL95).
posted by kokaku at 11:43 AM on February 4, 2014


(And some things want everything I have and more for no reason- the new Ducktales, Rogue Legacy, and Gone Home all chug hard on my machine despite none of them having any reason to.)

WHAT????? THERE IS A NEW DUCK TALES AND I DIDN'T GET THE MEMO?
posted by Theta States at 11:44 AM on February 4, 2014


(And some things want everything I have and more for no reason- the new Ducktales, Rogue Legacy, and Gone Home all chug hard on my machine despite none of them having any reason to.)

It seems like indie games often have performance problems, probably due to developers doing the programming and not as much money/time spent on optimization. I have way more trouble with my computer's performance playing Minecraft than I did in either Skyrim or Crysis.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:56 AM on February 4, 2014


The question I have in reading all of this is why do you play these games that are varying degrees of exploitative?

Lots of them I don't even try. The ones I do, for most of them, I try until I hit the really frustrating bits unless you open your wallet. Then I usually delete them.

The ones I've played that far and like, I decide - either open the wallet or keep grinding.

And then I have an fun thing going on with my wife and my brother-in-law where we play Simpson's Tapped Out, with a shared vow to never spend a cent on the game.

But since I've discovered Overdrive and am using it to listen to audiobooks from my library via my device, my playtime has all but disappeared. Listening to a book is a much better way to spend my commute than tapping at a screen.
posted by nubs at 11:58 AM on February 4, 2014


With Ms. Pac-Man, the money you pay to get better is still spent playing, and the improvement is in your own mind, the strategies and reactions you use in reacting to the game, rather than an artificial improvement that comes because you killed X rats.

Thank you. When I wrote that I sort of had a sense that there's a difference between grinding and playing Ms. Pac-Man, and I think that's exactly it. Grinding is the part of the game where it's not really challenging and you're not improving your skill at playing the game (or seeing anything new).

You still might say that mastering Ms. Pac-Man requires grinding through the easy levels to get to the part that's currently challenging. If there had been an option to pay $1.00 to start the game at Level 10, I'll bet a lot of the people trying to master the game would have paid to do that.
posted by straight at 12:25 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


(Although, actually Ms. Pac Man is not the best example here, because unlike Pac Man and a lot of other arcade games, Ms. Pac Man has some randomness in how the ghosts move, so playing the first few levels never becomes completely automatic the way it does for something like Pac Man or Zaxxon.)
posted by straight at 12:32 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "SteamOS will have a built in MP3 player that you can access in game and will use music you have stored on the system or LAN. "

Nethack has support to deliver email in game; which was cool as hell back in the day.
posted by Mitheral at 12:50 PM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Hey look, Sid Meier on Humble Bundle!
posted by exogenous at 1:02 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


WHAT????? THERE IS A NEW DUCK TALES AND I DIDN'T GET THE MEMO?

Yep. Available for 360, PS3, Wii U and Steam. It's okay, but I think the general consensus is it's not the equal of the original. They did get the original voice actors of the show to voice parts though.

On the randomness of Ms. Pac-Man: apparently it'the Red and Pink ghosts move randomly at the start of each board, for a few seconds. That's important because it's just enough to break patterns, which still preserving the ghosts' personalities which are what, effectively, is the game.

Nethack has support to deliver email in game; which was cool as hell back in the day.

Larn sends you system email when you win.
posted by JHarris at 1:34 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have way more trouble with my computer's performance playing Minecraft than I did in either Skyrim or Crysis.

The worlds in games like Skyrim are optimized for display in a hundred little ways at content creation time, while Minecraft's blocky world is still computer-generated and user-modifyable. You might want to try decreasing the draw distance, that's been known to help.
posted by JHarris at 1:37 PM on February 4, 2014


It goes back even further than the arcades. All the way back to the Middle Ages, where your actual literal life expectancy was the same, on average, as that of a modern video game character. So you see we have a strong precedent.
posted by turbid dahlia at 1:45 PM on February 4, 2014


Last year I purchased "The Binding of Isaac" for the princely sum of $5. Toward the end of the year I saw that the expansion set was on sale for $0.58 and I bought it.

Tens (more than tens) of hours of entertainment, and I didn't have to pay anything to unlock anything - just do things in-game.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:45 PM on February 4, 2014


Please don't forget also that Ms. Pac Man and similar arcade items are physical machines. Someone had to come and fix that joystick (all the time); someone had to empty the cash box; they got broken into; they got smashed for the cash box; something would go wrong inside.

None of these costs apply to "in-app purchases" - which is why these games make so so much money.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:47 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Another great game I've been playing lately, along with rymdkapsel, is NEO Scavenger. I broke my own rule about not buying Greenlight games off Steam, and I'm glad I did.

That has nothing to do with the issue being discussed here (though rymdkapsel is a mobile game too), I just think people should check 'em out.
posted by turbid dahlia at 1:52 PM on February 4, 2014


Huh, well, now I'm interested with Dungeon Keeper. Should I start with 1 or 2?

They are cheap as hell on GOG. Why not get both?
posted by turbid dahlia at 1:55 PM on February 4, 2014


I honestly don't mind the state of mobile gaming. After I sold my 360 and PSP for extra money a few years ago, I have a couple PC games which I haven't really gotten around to playing except Diablo III (which thankfully I beat before my Blizzard account was hacked). Today, I do the lion's share of my gaming on my iPad.

I tend to stay away from all EA games and heavily dependent IAP / timer games. I'll download them if they're free and well reviewed, poke around a bit, but unless I'm totally blown away by the game play (which hasn't happened yet), I'll usually delete them the same night.

There's a ton of other games I've purchased that I'm quite happy with, that feature negligible IAP or none at all.

I'd say on average I buy one to two games a week, usually at the $4.99 price point, and with one exception--where a publisher snuck in pressing IAP even at $5, I haven't gotten the shank again.

There's a lot of crap out there, but I'll download almost anything that's free and looks like it might be my cup of tea, there's no charge for a "meh" and delete.

Of course, I find TouchArcade's app to be of a lot of help in my searches. It helps to discover games I might have missed, warns of annoying/necessary IAPs, and the price drop "specials" alert is a nice feature too.
posted by Debaser626 at 2:05 PM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Foosnark: "- Poor: paying to relieve tedium, to bypass obstacles designed solely to get you to spend money."

I am deeply ashamed to admit that even though I worked for a major mobile gaming company and spent two years marinating in things like IAP, nothing crystallized why I hate PVZ2 and Candy Crush like this comment.
posted by scrump at 3:13 PM on February 4, 2014


I deleted Real Racing 3 after a few hours. It got to the point where I loved it and would spend $10 or so to unlock a full game to avoid having to wait for upgrades and repairs. Unfortunately it doesn't cost $10, but hundreds and hundreds of dollars, so instead they get $0 and I deleted it. It's $503 to unlock just the cars, not including upgrades or avoiding annoying repair times. Pass.
posted by yeti at 3:21 PM on February 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


There have always been bad games, and they don't spell doom for the entire industry. Games that require micro transactions can simply be stuffed into the bad game bin. The mad rush to develop mobile games is surely just a sign of industry growth. These growth spurts tend to grow a bit too much, so we get fed a lot of crap, but I'm sure it will find a happy medium. Personally I stopped playing mobile games awhile ago; I couldn't say why, but you will have to pull my desktop from my cold dead hands.
posted by Brocktoon at 3:41 PM on February 4, 2014


Huh, well, now I'm interested with Dungeon Keeper. Should I start with 1 or 2?

1 because it has the best player-controlled unit, Horned Reaper. It's insanely strong (a lvl 10 Reaper can stand against an army) and a prime candidate to possess and use against enemies. In order to get through a couple annoying levels you need a fully trained Reaper from the previous level through using a one-off item. Said levels are rather far into the game though.

Last year I purchased "The Binding of Isaac" for the princely sum of $5. Toward the end of the year I saw that the expansion set was on sale for $0.58 and I bought it.

Tens (more than tens) of hours of entertainment, and I didn't have to pay anything to unlock anything - just do things in-game.


I ended up buying BoI twice more, as well as the Basement collection, and I'm waiting to buy the demake. I wouldn't have bought it in the first place if the price weren't that low, but I ended up paying more because it was fun (and the programmer is cool).

As for IAP in computer games (what used to be cheat codes or debug modes to fool around with), you can still use a program like Cheat Engine to hack them. Paying to change a single value seems too audacious.



**SPOILER - HOW TO GET A REAPER IN DUNGEON KEEPER**

Sacrifice a Dark Mistress, a Bile Demon, and a Troll. And never let him be idle or he'll ransack your dungeon. Better to build a mini dungeon just for him.

**SPOILER END**
posted by ersatz at 4:07 PM on February 4, 2014


In order to get through a couple annoying levels you need a fully trained Reaper from the previous level through using a one-off item. Said levels are rather far into the game though.

Completely untrue (unless you mean secret levels). I have beat DK1 several times without doing this. Reapers are really not worth the trouble. If you need a big bad critter to transfer, train up a vampire. They're great.
posted by cog_nate at 4:41 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


There have always been bad games, and they don't spell doom for the entire industry.

They do if there are enough of them, relative to the non-bad games. See: Atari 2600.
posted by JHarris at 4:52 PM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


I really only like one kind of mobile game--turn-based strategy war games where you have different kinds of units, conquer territory to earn resources, and you use the resources to buy and upgrade more units. Uniwar is an early example. the Highborn series, and the best of all was Big Little War Game and its perfect successor, Great Big War Game.

I have played and replayed the later until I have nearly worn out the levels, hoping for more than a year that they would issue an update, a map pack, something! It will never happen. The lead developer of the game wrote a great blog post here. What it comes down to is that they did everything right with the game, it was a hit, and yet without significant in-game purchases they barely broke even.

This is also why the game will probably never see another hour of development.
posted by LarryC at 6:21 PM on February 4, 2014


I have to say I can be added to the list of not bothering with games that stick a latex clad but lubricant free finger up your ass and ask you to pay to have it removed.
posted by juiceCake at 7:14 PM on February 4, 2014


Anyone wanting to play the original Dungeon Keeper on a modern PC should check out KeeperFX, you can even get some player additional made campaigns if you've played the original to death.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 7:47 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


What it comes down to is that they did everything right with the game, it was a hit, and yet without significant in-game purchases they barely broke even.

Well, causes are often more complex than that. In any case, one of the games in question, Great Little War Game, if I remember right is one that I've played, and I feel like I should add that, regardless of accolades, I didn't much like it. And it's not that it's not my style of game -- Nintendo's Advance Wars series we adored, and played for hundreds of hours of game time across three iterations, in multiplayer, campaign, scenario and level editing modes.

If the game were as enjoyable as AW I wouldn't have had trouble paying $30 for it, but I often won't download even a free game that doesn't seem interesting to me. And getting critically lauded is usually no harder than being better than anything else available in that genre for that platform, which for iOS is often a very low bar.
posted by JHarris at 10:08 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


The worlds in games like Skyrim are optimized for display in a hundred little ways at content creation time, while Minecraft's blocky world is still computer-generated and user-modifyable.

It's going to be more to do with the efficiency of the runtime in those cases. Skyrim's got 20 years of engine development by what is probably at this point, a fairly large team. While Minecraft was written by one bloke in Java.

No-one writes serious game runtimes in Java. We don't even write tools in Java, and I've actually lost count of the languages currently involved in our current toolchain.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 11:16 PM on February 4, 2014


"Let's be generous. Those glimpses of the game Dungeon Keeper used to be are enough to earn one point. You can have the rest for 800 gems."
1/10

"Pros: Older smartphones aren’t compatible.
Cons: A sickening perversion of the whole concept of video games"

0/10

"A cynically motivated skeleton of a non-game, a scam that will take your cash and offer nothing in return."

0.5/5
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:12 AM on February 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


No-one writes serious game runtimes in Java. We don't even write tools in Java, and I've actually lost count of the languages currently involved in our current toolchain.

Yeah, when you're concerned about graphical performance, the JVM isn't really a good target. (Now, I'd be interested to know why you don't write tools in Java! Unless you mean GUIs, in which case, yeah.)
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:38 AM on February 5, 2014


And getting critically lauded is usually no harder than being better than anything else available in that genre for that platform, which for iOS is often a very low bar.


For that time, too. If your game is released during a period of weak competition, sometimes as short as a week, you'll get more plaudits from reviewers desperate for eyeballs.

Also, iOS games are judged by look and feel and fit and finish rather than innovative gameplay. Advance Wars' interminable and awful dialog cut scenes in story mode would have seen it tank in the reviews were it an iOS rather than Nintendo game, where candy-colored retreads of ancient games like Angry Birds and Jelly Defense. This is a holdover from Mac software market, where tiny devs would put a nice sheen on old 8-bit and PC shareware game genres.

Unfortunately, Android has all of the boring lack of innovation and engaging gameplay of the iOS game market, with the added bonus of poor attention to detail and nonexistent QA with a heaping helping of malware. (I'm a Nexus 4 owner - I love it way more than my work's iPhone, but why the hell does a toddler coloring game need access to my contacts? Got to be reeeeeal careful.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:11 AM on February 5, 2014


I don't mind paying to unlock extra content (I'm pretty happy to shell out $25 or so for the Walking Dead), but I definitely draw the line at purchasing "consumables" to help me through a level or to speed up gameplay. And some games, like the Disney Temple Runs, actually have bundles that are more expensive per unit at the higher price points.

But the game I'm most excited about at the moment (just downloaded, haven't played yet) is Genes in Space which is not only free, but allows players to "join the search for cancer cures with a citizen science project using a smartphone game to help researchers analyse vast volumes of genetic data from tumour samples."

Yeah, Candy Crush can sit on the back burner for a while.
posted by malocchio at 7:38 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


At this point I think I'm around 80 hours into Persona 4 Golden, and probably have more than that left in potential gameplay. I can't imagine the in-app purchase that'd be cheap enough to have that kind of value for the $20 the game cost me. (Well, plus the PS Vita to play it on, but then I have a cheap phone unsuitable for playing games, and all my portable electronic devices together cost less than what a lot of people spend on their phones.)
posted by asperity at 10:50 AM on February 5, 2014


Followup from Thomas Baekdal: When Done Right, In-App Purchases Can be Based on Trust
posted by divabat at 12:30 PM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've mentioned here before how much I like the iOS port of the board game Agricola, and how anxious I was when it turned out the core game costs $7 (OMG THAT B LIK A MILLION IDOLLERZ) but only came with the 'E' deck, the simplest and least interesting of the three decks the full board game comes with. I was pretty up front with my annoyance in the review for the game, I made sure people knew they weren't getting everything they would be getting, should be getting, in the physical box.

But then they finally release the other two decks, I and K, and... they cost $0.99 each. Which, I'm thinking, is pretty nice, I'd easily pay that, and did.

But now I'm wondering... why not just charge $9, or hell even $10, for the game with those decks included? What did they really gain by splitting it up like that? It makes no sense to me. It's not a case of trying it out and getting the IAP if players like the basic game, because people are paying seven for the full game, which is already outside people's iOS impulse buying range, and anyway the game's only really interesting with the I and K decks.
posted by JHarris at 1:17 PM on February 5, 2014


... Possibly they had a deadline, and wanted to get out what they'd finished?
posted by asperity at 1:53 PM on February 5, 2014


Thanks, divabat; Baekdal's latest response is thoughtful and interesting, emphasizing his key issue (while including a lot more): the way the in-app purchases are being implemented in certain games "to be a form of deception and social engineered ransomware" is unnecessary, obnoxious and bad for the long-term health of the industry.
posted by mediareport at 3:14 PM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Completely untrue (unless you mean secret levels). I have beat DK1 several times without doing this. Reapers are really not worth the trouble. If you need a big bad critter to transfer, train up a vampire. They're great.

I don't remember if they were secret levels, as I was playing through all of them. Vampire resurrection helps if you can take the time to level them up again, but in stages with little gold a lvl 10 Reaper can beat a whole wave of heroes on his own. There's a reason he's the iconic creature of the series ;)
posted by ersatz at 3:52 PM on February 5, 2014


Bad games did not doom the Atari 2600 era games industry. Sheesh. Arcades and PCs still chugged happily along until Nintendo stepped up.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:16 AM on February 6, 2014


Wondering why this dog has such high ratings in the Play store? Apparently, EA is redirecting in-App ratings which are less than perfect to a feedback form instead. Ratings lower than a 5 are possible from the Play store directly.
posted by bonehead at 10:36 AM on February 6, 2014


Bad games did not doom the Atari 2600 era games industry. Sheesh.

I take the position that anyone who thinks that video games didn't crash, severely, in 1983/84 is being delusional. And one of the major ingredients of that crash was the severe overabundance of Atari 2600 games, of which I still have strong memories of visiting a drugstore with my mom at a big table of Atari 2600 games, marked down to $1 each. Those things persisted for over a year. It's certainly not the sole cause of the crash, but it's a factor. And you could well say it was the doom of the Atari 2600 games industry.

As for the crash in general, it might not have killed video gaming, but it came damn close. Arcades have never come back up to the levels of relative success they were at before the crash -- before they were played by people from many walks of life, after they were the province of young males. They did not "chug along happily!" "PCs" didn't even exist -- microcomputers did, like the Apple II, Atari 8-bit and Commodore 64, and microcomputer software sales tended to be less than that of console games.

Sheesh indeed.
posted by JHarris at 12:15 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well of course the video game industry would crash if you could buy games for a dollar.
posted by straight at 12:48 PM on February 6, 2014




Plus don't forget that NoA initially had to package the NES with a robot in order to get stores to carry the thing- that's how toxic video games seemed to retailers at the time.

I remember the 4 for $1 games at my local Revco- I got Vanguard, Swordquest Earthworld, Swordquest Fireworld from those.
posted by Dr-Baa at 1:29 PM on February 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's kind of amazing that video game prices in the 80's and video game prices today are more or less the same without being adjusted for inflation. It's even more amazing some of the absolute, unredeemable shit you used to be able to charge $50-70 for.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:38 PM on February 7, 2014


The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh.
posted by Dr-Baa at 1:43 PM on February 7, 2014


You know the lawnmowers in PvZ? The first time a zombie gets to the end of a lane, it wipes out all the zombies in that lane, and any you haven't used, you get a little money for at the end of the level. In EA's latest bit of heinous fuckery, they're making you buy back the lawnmowers every time one goes off. Not per level. Ever.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:16 AM on February 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


Dungeon Keeper 1 is free this weekend on GOG.
posted by octothorpe at 7:54 AM on February 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


Obviously DK1 is free because I bought it last week. You're welcome, everyone.
posted by jcreigh at 8:29 AM on February 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


You're a giving soul.

DK2 is on sale for a buck fifty, too.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:56 AM on February 14, 2014


Fuck no! The weekend I'm away is when it goes up for free.
posted by nubs at 11:33 AM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


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