Freemium Gaming: Too Smart or Too Greedy?

Freemium Gaming: Too Smart or Too Greedy?

One of the most popular ways to play video games today involves the use of mobile devices. When I say mobile device, I’m not referring to handheld gaming like the Nintendo DS, 3DS, or even the Playstation Vita. I’m talking about iPads, touchpads, iPhones, phonepads, touchphones….basically any device that has a screen, a touch pad of some kind, and a million other apps that come along with it. These days, it’s almost a rule that every family member must have a device of this caliber, and if you don’t have one, I applaud you for not allowing the greedy hands of technology take you to their underworld.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with these devices. I wish they would stop upgrading to a new device every month, or at the very least, I wish all of these companies would join together on one front to just release one brand so we could cut the need to offer several choices of a very expensive device that is no different from any other one, but that is very unrealistic thinking. I think it’s great that mobile devices have come such a long way from what used to be the cell phone, and with the inclusion of games, the Internet, touch technology, and a variety of other programs and functionalities, the technology is quite impressive considering. The only reason why I do not own any of these devices though is the simple fact that; I already have a perfectly working cell phone, laptop computer, and a variety of different video game systems. Perhaps I could see the need after the very unlikely scenario that I would happen to lose all the aforementioned devices at once, but even more than that, I’m an individual that does better when functions are distributed to specific platforms and not all on the same one.

However, because this is a gaming website, I would like to focus on the games that are on these devices. And you want to know something, I think a lot of these games are really, really good. My favorite mobile game would have to be Plants vs. Zombies. I know the game initially came out for the PC and not mobile devices, but I think it’s a perfect example for what these mobile games are striving for. It’s the type of game that allows you to pick it up, play a few a levels and get a decent amount of enjoyment out of it, and easily put it down when you’ve had your fill. I’d much rather play this game on the PC or my Xbox 360, but I can see how and why it makes good, mobile entertainment. In fact, the sequel to Plants vs. Zombies was also only released for mobile devices, a move that actually made me very sad at first, until I found out about specific content in regards to the game. A lot of these games also fit into the puzzling genre, with games like Bejeweled, Peggle, a variety of different Tetris clones, and most famously (or should I say notoriously) Candy Crush Saga.

If you have a mobile device, or at the very least, an account on Facebook, you’ve probably heard a variety of things about Candy Crush. You may remember such classic lines like, “Your friend Tommy has beat Level 32,” “Tina has created a striped candy,” or “Mark needs some help in accessing the next level!” If you’ve seen these lines and have no idea what they mean, you have a friend that is addicted, or has been addicted, to Candy Crush Saga.

For those who are unaware, Candy Crush Saga is a puzzle game, developed by the indie gaming distributor King, that works pretty similarly to the game Bejeweled. You are given a grid with several blocks, or in this case, candy, and your goal is to achieve the mission objective by swapping/switching candy. Whenever there are three candies that are adjacent to each other (vertically or horizontally), the candies will disappear and any candies above the match will fall further down the board. You also can’t switch any candies unless they make a a match, requiring you to deal only with the moves you are given from the get-go, and not allowing for a lot of strategy in between. The mission objectives vary from stage to stage. For some stages, you need to get a certain amount of points before you run out of moves or get a certain amount of points before your time runs out. Other stages will require you to bring down specific items from the top of the board to the very bottom, or in other cases, collecting a set number of each color of candy before you run out of moves. Then there are my least favorite levels, the jelly levels, where you have to clear out all of the jelly on the board by making matches on all of the spaces that have the jelly markings on them. The game seems simple enough in concept, especially once you see it in action, but the recipe for difficulty is one that will throw you through a loop, particularly when you first leave the tutorial levels.

The fact of the matter is, every level is completely random in terms of what blocks you will get and what blocks will appear on screen once you have made a match. This means that you don’t necessarily have control over what happens after every move. There are some scenarios where you can look ahead and think, “Ok, well, I need to make a 5 candy match of purples, but I have to move this other purple candy over first so I can place it in the middle of these two sets of 2 purples,” and that’s all nice and dandy, but while you are moving the purple candy over, you run the risk of another match happening while you are setting the combo up, effectively ruining your progress. Plus, because you only have a specific amount of moves (or time) for each stage, every time you move one candy to set up a combo, you are effectively running the risk of your game getting cut short, and depending on a match, that may or may not give you enough resources/points to actually win. The game is based on luck so much that there are times where the game just prematurely ends because there are no more possible moves you can make, when you are right in the middle of an extremely good run. I see what the developers were going for, and honestly, it was a good marketing strategy for the casual crowd of gamers as it meant anyone could clear the levels without having to rely on huge Tetris Attack styled combos. However, this gimmick is also one of the most annoying aspects of the game for everybody in general, because it makes the later stages of the game almost impossible to complete and introduces the most controversial feature of these types of games, the fact that Candy Crush is a “freemium” game.

What is a freemium game, you may be asking? A freemium game is a game that is free to purchase and play, but only allows you limited content. However, in order to experience other aspects of the game, you need to pay money to actually use these features. In most cases, including Candy Crush, the entire game can be played without having to purchase anything, but you can use your own money to purchase items that can make the game easier. You could almost compare this to the “Super Guide” feature in newer Nintendo games, but there aren’t any negative implications to using the items. Sometimes though, the items may not be able to help you finish the level at all, requiring you to waste even more money to get more or finally manning up and cutting your losses before you spend every cent you own.

Now, for gamers who think it is stupid to pay money to get a small advantage that may or may not help you, let me remind you that it is completely optional to do so. Like I said before, the entire game can be completed without purchasing a single power-up, or spending a few extra bucks on getting some more moves. However, like I also pointed out, this game is incredibly difficult and luck-based, so for those who are passionate about reaching the end of the road, the idea of spending some of your hard-earned cash may not be so one-sided. Just imagine reaching the end of a very difficult level, a level you’ve spent days trying to beat, and the only thing standing in your way is one more match. However, you have just ran out of turns and it may be a long time before you even make it to this point again. This makes the decision to spend money a lot harder, but I feel like people are more prone to actually spending the money just to get it over with. They feel like, “I’ve been doing this level forever and chances are, I’ll never get hung up on a level like this again,” so the decision seems easy.

This just so happens to be King’s marketing strategy though, and to be honest, it’s quite good as it allows them to use that kind of thinking to their advantage and possibly end up making more money than they would if they put the game on retail. One aspect I forgot to mention is that there are more than 500 levels in Candy Crush Saga, and it’s a number that continues to grow as they make new levels and redesign old levels to be put into the “Dream World” mode of the game (which consists of level repeats from the main game with a new gimmick in play). Due to the luck aspect of the game, there really isn’t much of a difficulty curve. Whenever you start a new world, the first few levels are generally pretty easy because they introduce a new gimmick and want to make sure you understand how it works. After those introductory levels though, you are on your own, so you better be ready for action…those stages aren’t going to mess around. When I played Candy Crush, I got stuck around Level 80 for the longest time, but once I made it past that level, I didn’t really have any issues with a level until I was in the 300 and 400s, and even then, I wouldn’t say the levels have been much different in difficulty.

I guess I should also mention the fact that in order to progress to the next world, you must do either one of two things. The first thing you can do is get three of your friends to allow you access by asking for their permission. The next time they play the game, they will be given a notification that you are trying to unlock the next world, and if they aren’t jerks, they can give you a ticket. When you have 3 tickets, the next world will unlock and you can continue to play. The second thing you can do is pay money to get to the next world. Honestly, considering how many people play Candy Crush, you should never be in a position to pay money, so do not even consider that option. Just ask your friends…chances are, they have probably already done the same thing. Another gimmick is the fact that there is a system of “lives” for the game. If you fail a mission, you lose a life. If you lose all of your lives, you either have to wait until you get a life refill (every 25-30 minutes, the game gives you an extra life), or pay to get five extra lives. Once again, because chances are that you will be failing on the same level over and over again, there is no need to purchase lives. At some point, your lives will grow back and if you ever spend money on an extra life, and you lose that life, it’s the same as throwing actual money down the drain.

King has done this type of game design with a large variety of their games and safe to say, they’ve probably made more money than what the government of the United States even has at their disposal. Although I think the actual plan is evil and greedy, I can respect a good marketing strategy, and right now, this strategy is kicking ass and taking names. It tempts their consumers in wanting to see more of the game and because of how cheap it seems (you can essentially buy 5 extra moves in one level for $1), people will do it just for the sake of moving on and accomplishing a hard-fought goal. As gamers though, we need to watch out and be aware of what we are giving them in return. It may not seem like you are spending a lot when you do it the first few times, but that is what catches you off-guard and I can imagine people forgetting that the game is taking actual money in. For example, imagine spending $1 on every world of the game; after you get through all of the worlds, that one dollar per world can end up being the price of a Nintendo DS game, and that would just be a best-case scenario. There are packages that can cost up to $20, $30, or even $50 dollars, and at that point, people may just start using their power-ups just for the sake of getting rid of them. This is why we need to be careful. Candy can be an addiction for people, but so can Candy Crush.

As far as the actual game is concerned, I like Candy Crush Saga. It’s fun, it’s very addictive, there is “some” aspect of puzzle-solving, and it’s a game I wish would be more available on different platforms. Not going to lie though, if they do offer it, or a game like it, I would hope that the freemium stuff would not be included just for the sake of being able to play a game without the added desire to spend money when we think we need it. In fact, I think the game would still be a success even if it was in retail and with the freemium stuff removed. They could make the levels a bit easier (and a little less based on luck) and still offer a full-retail price. However, with how many people buying their daily addictions of Candy Crush power-ups, I think King is sitting comfy at where they are now and all of their employees must have some pretty nice beach homes.

King is not the only company making use of the freemium logic in their games, but they are definitely the “kingpins” of this new lane of gaming. In fact, Plants vs. Zombies 2 and the Facebook iteration of the PvZ series have also used this logic in getting gamers to spend no money on the game itself, but lots of money on all of the other bells and whistles. Is this logic just a phase or will it become a new gaming standard? I for one hope it’s only the former though because I feel this strategy actually devalues the actual game itself, showing that the game cannot stand on its own feet and relies on the power of purchasing for a gamer to have any fun with it, or in some cases, actually complete it. I also feel like King has gone a little “mad with power” due to the success of Candy Crush Saga, but that is a topic I would like to discuss another day. For now, I’ve said my piece, and now I am curious to what you guys think about freemium gaming.

Later Star Warriors!

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3 Responses to Freemium Gaming: Too Smart or Too Greedy?

  1. Danette says:

    I actually don’t have any games on my cell. Never really took interest in mobile games as much as ones available for gaming systems. I may the only person alive who hasn’t played Angry Birds or Candy Crush Saga. I got Bejeweled 2 and 3 so I never took interest in the Candy Crush clone. I also hate the fact that even when a game is free you get nickled and dimed for extra features, granted those are optional they are also very appealing and addicting. I did get Final Fantasy IV The After Years for the Wii and I know this was originally a mobile game in Japan, and when I learned when you actually had to pay extra for all the other story lines I was a little ticked. Pretty much made me weary of mobile games from there on out (again, since this is actually a mobile game in Japan).

  2. Michael says:

    One thing that I learned in one of my college classes about candy crush is thar it actually earns $350,000 per day. Which for a freemium game as you put it, which might I say is a very good way of describing these types of games, is a lot more than I thought it would be making.

    Total sidenote since I am doing this on a mobile phone and I was going to put it in the websites section, I have a channel on YouTube called digidestined pichu, if you want to check it out. Once again only posting this here because I kind of lose track of my thought if gone too long.

  3. The Lost Subrosian says:

    Never really bothered with freemium gaming, if I am spending money on games I would rather plow it into something much more worthwhile like my GBA collection (130 games and counting). The other advantage to that is that if you pay money for freemium add ons then lose all data on the device you have to pay out again to get it all back. Besides, I would rather play a real game like Metroid Fusion for example and keep the challenge in instead of paying to automatically advance forward, otherwise whats the point in playing? I guess its attitudes toward gaming have changed a lot in recent years..

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