With the rise of freemium gameplay and in-app purchases comes the occasionally awkward growing pains of figuring out when profits hamper gameplay. At its worst, this trend has brought about the addict-taunting wait times between lives imposed by titles like Candy Crush. You either pay them or wait 30 minutes to play again, or move onto another game that doesn't nickel and dime you. Candy Crush is also the king of another vile new habit for mobile gaming; giving you single-use power-ups that can then only be earned again by purchasing more. There's no other way to earn them other than the power of the dollar.
Thankfully, a recent title has reminded us that not all freemium games are born from gameplay-ruining profit motives. Some developers actually care about making their games fun first, and wildly profitably second.
ZeptoLab, makers of the popular Cut the Rope series, is one such developer, and its solution to the payment-for-power-ups issue has warmed my heart. It brought me back to a game I enjoyed, but felt like I could never properly finish without opening my wallet.
Every day, Cut the Rope 2 gives players the chance to win free power-ups. Immediately upon opening the app, you're presented with four butterflies and asked to pick the prettiest one. Depending on your choice, the game gives you between one and 10 of any given power-up.
This gives you the opportunity to keep playing the game strategically using power-ups without paying more than the initial US$0.99. If you want to play like you're Richie Rich, throwing balloons and candy rain around all willy-nilly, you still have that option. This iOS-exclusive game is the first time we've seen such a reasonable compromise in the battle between profit and playability.
We reached out to Semyon Voinov, co-founder and creative director of ZeptoLab to ask what inspired the company to take this approach to in-game purchases.
"Mobile gaming is in a constant state of evolution and it's clear that free-to-play is the direction the market is headed. There's a balance between paid and free gaming that we're very mindful of, and we'll be using both models in our Cut the Rope and future games. But aside from that, what we're primarily focusing on is designing beautiful, fun and entertaining games that people will love. We designed Cut the Rope 2 so that you can enjoy it without having to pay for power-ups, and one element we added as a reward for regular play is the opportunity to earn free power-ups."
That's a refreshing stance to hear from a developer, especially one whose last title was downloaded 400 million times. Cut the Rope 2 leaves a lot of potential money on the table in the name of being as fun as possible, and it's brought me back to the title day after day. It even inspired me to actually buy a needed power-up out of appreciation for not feeling milked.
Voinov is right; freemium is the way of the future. Sadly it's too much to ask that every developer put gameplay above its bottom line. But with Cut the Rope 2, ZeptoLabs deserves special credit for paying attention to the desires of the people who play its games -- the latest update for the title allows players to access bonus levels without spending any power-ups.
Instead, they can be unlocked by completing sub "missions" within the game's levels and collecting medals. It provides yet another option for players in a game that already rewards players for creative solutions.
We can only hope that more developers try to emulate this customer-friendly approach to in-game purchases, or at least agree to not subject players to arbitrary time limits between levels.