The Problem with Freemium Games

I remember once watching an episode of South Park, where they were poking fun at freemium games, those free to play games that come with microtransactions.

My first real experience with a freemium game was probably with Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff. It was one of those games where in the beginning, it was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it. As the app progressively got more updates and content, the game started to drag along, until it felt like a chore.

For those who aren’t familiar with this app, the game is all about building up your own version of Quahog, and making various the characters of Family Guy do tasks, very much like The Simpsons: Tapped Out. As they complete tasks, you earn money used for building your town. In some cases, the tasks completed will unlock extra rewards, such as new characters or costumes for existing characters.

The Quest for Stuff had a big update around Halloween of that year. This update introduced a lot of new content for the game and compelled a lot of people to play through it. However there was one thing that came very apparent in the comments section of many Facebook posts and Pages based around the game. It seemed that people had to put in a lot of effort just to unlock some of the various characters that would otherwise be unlocked using clams, which are the premium currency in the Quest for Stuff.

What compels us to go through all this work just to succeed and move forward in a video game?

As it was mentioned in that South Park episode, it all comes down to the first few levels, where players are awarded big time for doing simple tasks. As they progress further, the time in which it takes to complete objectives in these games start to get exponentially higher. If there’s one thing I have noticed amongst these freemium games, is that there’s always some kind of time constraint involved. That is, waiting for a certain period of time for a character to complete a task, a building to finish construction, army to get trained, etc.

The higher your level, the more likely you’re going to be sitting around waiting for things to get completed, which can get pretty boring. That is where the game allows you pony up real money to purchase premium currency.

I don’t have a problem with premium currency, to be honest. The problem I have is when this model goes against the very definition of a game: a fun, entertaining way of taking your mind off of the grind of everyday life. If a player has to sit around and do nothing but wait, they are not going to have a lot of fun.

One of the best things I’ve ever seen implemented in free games is a “loyalty system”. Basically, players are rewarded for logging into the game each day, with each consecutive day making the reward all the better.

Of the gaming apps that I have played that are free, Fallout Shelter seems to be the one app which pretty much gets this right. For starters, the game does not restrict you from doing anything. You do not have to pay premium currency to move forward or have fun. What the app has instead are lunchboxes, special items that when opened, give the player bonus items, often including a rare one each time. These lunch boxes are essentially the premium currency. And it’s also non-intrusive. The game isn’t throwing up advertisements telling you to buy more lunch boxes to proceed, they simply just exist out of sight until you want to buy them.

And to be honest, I actually bought some. Good on you, Bethesda, you’ve taken a free-to-play business model and made it into something that I really enjoy and are willing to pay for.

Anyways that’s about all I have for today regarding this. I just wanted to get some stuff out of my head about this, cuz it’s one thing that’s been kind of on my mind for quite some time.

I hope you enjoyed this rant. Do you agree with what I have to say? Feel free to leave your thoughts below, I appreciate any feedback.

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