March 4th, 2013 | By Mark Isaacson
The first revolves around a settlement between Apple and upwards of 23 million iTunes account holders who believe that certain in-app purchases were made by their children without consent or understanding. The second is the controversial release of Real Racing 3 which, according to reports, has upwards of $500 worth of micro transactions.
It’s a dangerous pattern that’s quickly taking a hold of the market, developers and publishers selling additional items and collectables within their games or promising unlocked content for an added price. Sure it isn’t new, but the somewhat farcical side of the business is starting to show its face, something that the industry can’t afford to have floating around for too long.
There’s nothing wrong with paid content, well produced downloadable extras done can add something meaningful to the existing product and are well worth both the effort and the loose change. But when a game offers a quick fix for your troubles or a minor change to your characters clothing? That’s something that I’m not a huge fan of at all. It’s like asking me if I want butter with my toast and then charging me a dollar for it.
Real Racing 3 (RR3), a series that has garnered a lot of praise over the years, had a ton of hype surrounding this second sequel. Though the previous two titles were paid apps with plenty of in-game content to keep the masses enthralled, RR3 has turned things upside down by providing a free app for download before enticing you with a number of upgrades, unlockable cars and car parts among many other options.
Like most freemium titles before it you can unlock just about all of the content over time, though the number doing the rounds right now puts it at well over 400 hours of play time in order to do that. If you can’t wait that long and you’ve got $500 stashed away for just such an event, you can purchase everything you need straight up, but how is that fair? I can appreciate having to work for the stuff you want, racing games in particular are synonymous with just such a concept, but 400 hours? $500? That’s crossing a line that should never have been crossed at all.
Another example is the puzzle game Candy Crush Saga. On its own it’s a solid piece of entertainment, but take a look closely at its freemium concept. The game allows you to purchase more powerful special items to help you along, sure, but it’s the opportunity to purchase more moves in order to finish a puzzle once you run out of existing chances that you start to realise how devilish the concept is. You run out of moves in any other game and it’s over, but here you can pay as much as you want until you finish.
The ability to purchase new content should be a rewarding experience, like downloading new puzzles in Puzzle Retreat or a completely new chapter of Forever Lost. To make it all about an easier way or even a cheaters way to victory? That’s something I can’t agree on. It’s almost like enticing a player or even a child to gamble for something bigger and better, pulling them in with the wondrous word ‘free’ then throwing endless opportunities to buy items without having to work for it.
Which brings me back to the settlement between Apple and its users. A number of games on the App Store or Google Play right now are aimed at a younger audience (Smurf’s Village for example), but what’s scary is the number of said games that include in-app purchasing. The player can easily tap a button or two and, before they know it, own a bunch of new content without realising how much they’ve spent on it. A young child won’t understand the difference, they think it’s part of the experience to unlock something new in order to get what they want.
I really do hope the two above news pieces sink in, that the myriad of developers who think they can ‘scam’ their way into a few extra dollars for an easy way out think again before uploading their next project. If nothing else, we need to reconsider both the importance of in-app purchasing and create a more balanced and natural way to incorporate them without it feeling like we’re paying for something we should already own. In the case of Real Racing 3, sometimes it’s better to be a $5 app than nothing at all.
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