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June 10th 2014 4:19 pm

Do I have an unhealthy fear of in-app purchases?

I think it's pretty common knowledge that I love playing games in various forms and on various platforms. Consoles, PCs, mobile devices, and even board games.

While browsing through the App Store, I noticed a new game that seems pretty awesome. Virtual multiplayer jousting! Being obsessed with things like Game of Thrones and other medieval high fantasy genres, this is something that should be an immediate download for me.

Of course, I click it and see that it's free. That immediately sets off alarm bells in my head. How can this nifty, beautiful looking game that's a featured editor's pick be free? Oh, no. Ohhhh, no.

"Offers In-App Purchases"

Delete! Close the app! Throw my phone away!

At this point, I really think that I have an aversion to any "free-to-play" game (also known by the more nefarious moniker, "pay-to-win"). The game play always turns out to be formulaic and throws up various blocks to prevent you from actually having any fun: wait for this timer to reset, or wait for these magic gems to refill, or you've used up the number of moves you're allotted for this hour. But of course, there's always a way to bypass it. Just pay $2.99 for this potion, or $1.99 for a "satchel of gold" and you can play as much as you want! At least for the next 10 minutes.

I probably come across as really jaded with regard to free-to-play games and it stems from a few things: one is the fairly boring and uninspired gameplay that I mentioned up above. Another is that if you do pay for the game, you can end up spending significantly more money on a cheesy mobile game, compared to something like a AAA quality title on a console. The last thing is that after previously working for a mobile developer, seeing the borderline predatory tactics we used to try to hook people with addictive personalities left a really bad taste in my mouth. It's been hard to forget that sort of stuff.

Anyway, do you spend time playing free-to-play games? How do you balance enjoyment versus spending massive amounts of money?

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10 replies

I generally stay away from the games that limit you unless you purchase in game. I've refused to pay beyond the initial cost of the app, so I quickly become annoyed and delete those kind of games.

I did spend some time playing The Simpsons: Tapped Out. I had jailbroken my phone and was using one of those utilities that lets you speed things up. Start building a building and set your phone's clock ahead an hour or so. That made the game fun for about a day.

Last September I switched to a used Samsung Nexus S 4G for TIng (Sprint) to save some money. So I a haven't played mobile games in a while. So that's how I balance, haha.
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I've refused to pay beyond the initial cost of the app

Yup, this is also my approach. I like to pay for a quality game, but it has to be upfront. I really do not want to pay for an armer, some bombs, some coins etc in order to complete a level. And the games are designed in such a manner that this type of purchase never ends.
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If it's a free-to-play game that doesn't end, then I probably won't play it, especially if it involves playing other people who pay for everything and have a huge advantage at the game.

The most recent free-to-play game I played was Two Dots, the sequel to Dots (weplaydots.com/), which has 85 levels, so there is an end goal. You could pay to get a bomb that clears dots or extra lives, but my issue with this is:
  1. They're a dollar each
  2. It feels like cheating
It might sound crazy, but some levels were so impossible that it was like Two Dots was trying to get me to buy the extra stuff. But then after grinding on a level for a day or so, the game sort of accepted the fact that I wasn't going to pay anything and made the level easier. I'm proud to say that I managed to beat the game without cheating buying anything!

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It might sound crazy, but some levels were so impossible that it was like Two Dots was trying to get me to buy the extra stuff.

You were right. Thats exactly the way these kind of games are designed.
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My rule of thumb:

Free game with plenty of in-game currency IAP = don't touch this game.
Free game with content-unlocking IAP = thanks for letting me try the game before buying it.
Paid game with plenty of in-game currency IAP = check reviews for info about IAP reliance.
Paid game with content-unlocking IAP = I'll try it, but won't always unlock IAP if too many and too expensive.
Expensive game ($10+) with IAP = REALLY? YOU WANT MORE? :o but I would still play it anyways.

On a related note, I have played many games priced in the general region of $5 where buying the strongest weapon could cost you over $100 and the rest of the ultimate armor pieces cost you another $100+. That's just retarded IMO.
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Expensive game ($10+) with IAP = REALLY? YOU WANT MORE? :o but I would still play it anyways.

Ha ha ..
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I'm pretty much the same way, but it also largely depends on the game. If games, or any app, are free or $1-2 but have a single IAP of $2-3 I will eventually just buy it to help supporting the developers. Where I draw the line is with games you posted in your image that make it so games are not easy to progress without spending money. I'm probably generalizing a bit there, but I tend to notice they're often very similar to the genre you posted.

Though I do recognize that some people view free-games as a try before you buy, which I guess I can see. However, I would be ok with that if aspects of the game weren't severely hampered by the need for IAP. Or the flipside is you get a full-featured game but it has two ad banners on the top and bottom, almost forcing you into buying the IAP to remove them.

In the end I think they have helped mobile gaming grow a lot, but I also think it's a huge reason you will never see companies like Nintendo move to mobile.
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Absolutely yes, stay away from that if not balance your time, spend your time in other activities and if you want to play check the developers of the app if it is trusted developers then when you buy an app make sure the one you buy if not ridiculous.
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I hate in-app purchases. Never feels like I "own" the app.
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To be honest: I have the same feelings like you! I understand that the developers need to make money somehow, but I don't like the feeling to have to pay to win some stupid game.
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