Freemium gaming is broken.
Okay, that’s a little harsh. I’ll be more specific, in many cases, Freemium gaming is broken. And I’m not just talking about the system of charing people a few bucks here and there to play a game (which, when handled properly, is completely tolerable), I’m talking about how the freemium style is actually causing developers to create actively bad and painful gameplay experiences that would not be improved even if they were free. People are looking at games with optional micro-transactions and learning the wrong lesson entirely. A good freemium game demands extra money because it’s addicting and fun to play, but many free to play games offer an interminable experience while allowing you to pay to skip levels or to get through the the rough sections of the game.
How awful is that? It’s the developer pretty much saying “Hey, we know this section of the game is too long and hard to play. We know you’re being forced to grind for gold coins to unlock the next stage. We know it’s not fun…but you can fix that. Buy a few gold coins for a buck. Spend ten bucks and get even more! Heck, why don’t you go for the $60 plan and never worry about gold coins again!”
Doesn’t that philosophy go against everything that makes gaming popular in the first place? We don’t choose to play a game because it’ll be a painful experience, we choose to play a game because we want to have a good time. We want a diversion. We want to get lost for a little while. I know that games are big business and that the people who make them deserve to make money, but asking for money in order to make a game tolerable is lower than low.
Here’s how the freemium model should work: the developers do everything in their power (and within their budget) to create an amazing experience. If they decide to release it for free (I would rather pay a few bucks to download a game rather than grapple with the various freemium issues, but whatever), they need to integrate optional payments so they enhance the game. Is it really that simple? If you’ve made a good game, it should be.
If your game is good, I’ll be happy to toss some money at it. Offer additional levels or characters for a buck apiece. Have optional levels and modes ready to go (but not essential to enjoying the main experience) ready to go for when players exhaust the main game. If your game is really something special, offer a “tip jar” and let gamers donate a buck or two if they enjoyed the game. Sure, not everyone will donate, but look at Punchquest (the best mobile game released in 2012) which was so good and so complete that users had no problem downloading the paid content and helping out through the tip jar.
So listen up, developers: people are going to catch on. Soon, they’ll learn that tossing money at a broken game to fix its issues is a sham. They’ll turn away. They’ll stop filling your coffers. Take a good, long look at your competition. Take a good long look at your work. Mobile gaming is at a prepicice: it’s time to evolve or die.
(Do you have a great idea for an app? Rocksauce Studios wants to help you with that!)