I’m the Free in Freemium Game Play

by Chris McGinty

I’ve only spent money on a Freemium game once in my long sordid career as a cheapskate gamer. I’ll tell you that story in a moment, but first I’d like to seemingly contradict myself and say, where it comes to Freemium games, I do not spend money. I think it even goes a step farther…

Not making this up. I’ve already started a series of blog posts on odd coincidences, but I just started my Pandora station (for which I’ve never paid a subscription) and the song that came on was “Money” by Pink Floyd. Yes, it would have been more apt if it had been “I’m Free” by Soup Dragons. Don’t be afraid of your freedom, Pandora.

The Soup Dragons – I’m Free

I was saying that I think it goes a step further, which I misspelled as farther, so it may be a good thing I interrupted myself. I’m actually more interested in playing Freemium games to see how I can do without paying for help. Ads I view as a necessary evil in these games, but I’ll discuss that in a bit too.

And Pandora is playing an ad right after I wrote that. Sigh. Toilet paper ad. Necessary evil indeed.

I don’t mind if you’re confused, but I don’t want you to be confused at this point if it’s because you don’t understand what a Freemium game is. I’ll link to a Wikipedia page if there is one, but the simple version is that you download the game for free and then you may choose to buy things within the game if you’d like. It doesn’t even have to be a game, which I should have thought about earlier when I was talking about Pandora. Many non-game apps use the Freemium model as well. It’s almost like bait and switch. It’s free. But then it’s not free. Here’s a song that as near as I can tell is setting up a meeting at one place, but then going elsewhere. It’s also almost like bait and switch, except you don’t wipe out your savings buying angora rabbits.

Verano – Bombafragola

The Other Time I Bought Stuff in a Freemium Game

This won’t surprise you that the first game I can think of playing online that somewhat used the Freemium model was Magic Online. It’s not exactly Freemium though. When I signed up I had to pay $9.99 to setup the account, but since they gave you $9.99 worth of digital product it was sort of a free account. Later, I spent about $200 to play in Leagues over the course of a year. Then they updated the software and for years they never setup the leagues. I don’t know if they ever did as I haven’t played Magic Online for half a decade now. Part of this series is going to include discussions of community problems that developers need to address.

To Farmville and Beyond

For me, the start of my Freemium playing career started with Farmville, and Zynga has been largely blamed for the Freemium model of gaming. When you think about it, the Freemium model is somewhat brilliant.

Do men have booties, or has that term been claimed as a female term? Sorry. Another toilet paper commercial.

I wrote a couple of articles about Farmville that are still housed here on the website. The important point is that at the time a person was spending a lot of money on a new video game to pay $60 for it, but there were people who had easily spent into the hundreds, even thousands in a couple of extreme cases, in order to progress in the game or to decorate their farm in a certain way. Farmville was what I consider to be a generous Freemium game, by the way. Speaking of which…

According to some sources that might be linked, Kongregate makes over $20 million a year with AdVenture Capitalist, which is a game you download for free. It’s also a game that I’ve never paid any money to play, but they’ve probably made quite a bit of money from me watching the damn ads. AdVenture Capitalist is also what I consider to be a generous game. You can gain a lot of boosts just by playing the game, and AdVenture Capitalist never forces you to watch an ad. You can always skip ads, unlike some games. You can even skip the songs I place randomly along the way, but why would you?

Pink Floyd – Money

Let’s Talk About Ads and a Lack of Generosity

Sometimes, you’ll be reading through reviews of games in the app store for whichever phone company you’ve chosen, and you’ll read something like, “Great Game! Giving 1-Star because of too many ads and you have to spend money to make any progress.” I usually avoid games like this.

I think that AdVenture Capitalist has it right. Never make anyone watch an ad. Never make anyone spend money to enjoy the game. I found AdVenture Capitalist around the time that it was new, and I really enjoyed it. It was mindless, sure, but it was fun. If it had been plagued with ads, bugged me to spend money every five seconds, and felt like I couldn’t get anywhere unless I either watched ads or spent money, I don’t think the next step would have happened. The next step was that I told Nathan about how much fun it was, and Nathan played it for a couple of years. I don’t know if he spent any money. Eventually, I came back to the game, because I missed it.

My point is that Kongregate didn’t scare off the players, and they are doing well because of it. In an ideal world, every game would make a lot of money for a long time, because most games have an audience, even if I’m not part of that audience. It’s sad when someone truly enjoyed a game, but is claiming they’re going to uninstall because they hate the way they’re making their money. They will not suggest that game to someone else.

Hurry Up and Wait

This is a subsection of that last section. There are two ways in which people are complaining about not being able to progress without paying money. The first is simply that the game hits a wall where you either pay or have to stop. I don’t think those are too common, but it’s possible that I just avoided downloading them because of bad reviews.

The second way is when you get to play the game for so long, usually about 20 minutes, and then you have to actually wait for the next opportunity to play, which is done with timers. With Farmville, it made sense with the game mechanics. You planted crops and then you waited for them to grow. If you didn’t want to wait 16 hours for those damn watermelons to grow (I’m guessing, but 16 hours sounds right) then you could pay for boosts that would speed things up.

White Lion – Wait

I don’t really mind this kind of game. It keeps me from playing for too long, and if I am still interested in playing a game, I can go to another hurry up and wait game. Some of the games might take a cue from Farmville and come up with a reason for the wait related to the game, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

Let me say this though. For better or worse, you can play AdVenture Capitalist for as long as you want and not have to wait for an arbitrary timer. Your profits will become sluggish, but there are game mechanics that fix that problem without ads or money. I really believe AdVenture Capitalist to be the model by which Freemium games should base their own apps.

That Time I Spent Money on a Freemium Game

I have so much that I can talk about relating to Freemium apps, but I think I hit most of the major points here. I’ll get into nitty gritty when I do future reviews and discussions. For full disclosure, I should discuss the purchase I once made. I’m not completely opposed to spending money on games, but like I said, I like to see how far I can get without having to spend money. I am opposed to spending money that isn’t really disposable on games, but I guess people spend money that’s not all that disposable on plenty of dumb things.

I played a game called Ingress, which was the engine that Pokemon Go was built on. The funny thing is that Ingress probably cost me a lot of money to play, because it was played in the real world, which means that when I wanted to get out and play I either walked or drove. I even bought a $30 ten-speed bike to use for playing around my house. The bike got stolen, which is sad given that it was only $30.

Pink Floyd – Bike

Driving costs money for gas and wear and tear on my vehicle. It was probably an expensive hobby, but to be fair I’ve spent an inordinate amount of my life driving. It’s something I enjoy doing.

The problem for Niantic was that people were spending a lot of money to play this game, but Niantic wasn’t seeing any of it. They eventually realized that they needed to create a store in the game. There is nothing in the Ingress store that is really necessary to play the game, and they were mostly careful about not creating a pay to win environment. There was one thing that I actually wanted though.

Your inventory maximum in Ingress was 2,000 items, which I think was to keep server memory down. The portal keys that you needed to link portals took up space in that inventory. Most people kept very few keys, but one of the things that I did a lot was recharge portals which you could either do at the portal or remotely with a key. I kept a lot of keys, and it was an inventory issue for me.

One of the store items was five key lockers for $9.99 (there’s that price again) and these lockers could keep 100 keys each, effectively expanding your inventory by 495 (since the key lockers counted against your inventory), but you had to use it for keys. “No problem!” I exclaimed, but I was opposed to spending money on a game that was supposed to be free (all the driving and bicycle buying aside) so I didn’t buy the key lockers.

Clearly, whatever currency Ingress uses has gone through a little of the old hyperinflation.

One of my teammates (one of my favourite teammates, in fact) bought me the key lockers for my birthday. I’m also opposed to celebrating my birthdays, but people usually ignore me. So she gave me her debit card, and for the first time, I setup my account to be able to buy something. I bought the key lockers, and the moment the purchase was verified, I removed her card info from my account and set it to no purchases again.

You only think that’s the end of the story. Something must have gone wrong, because the next time I went to pay my cell phone bill it was about $9.99 too high (or 14,900 whatever those are too high). I called and they said it was an app purchase. I explained to them that there was a debit card used to pay for that purchase, and this is exactly why I don’t have my account set to buy shit. I don’t trust these companies not to charge me for purchases I didn’t make. Yes, I made this purchase, but not on my damn bill. They removed the charge from my bill.

Even in that moment, I realized that what probably happened was that in spite of having put in the debit card as the method of payment, it didn’t charge the card and defaulted to my bill. I had no way of verifying whether the card had been charged though. Many months later, I was able to verify with my teammate that the card probably wasn’t charged, but I had no way of knowing when it ended up on my cell phone bill.

Basically, the one time I spent money on a Freemium game it wasn’t even my money, and it looks like the gift buyer didn’t pay for it anyway because they screwed up the payment by defaulting to my bill. And you only think that’s the end of the story.

My cell phone bill a month after the charge had been removed from my bill was also around $9.99 too high, so I called again. I went through the same spiel. At that point, I still couldn’t verify if her card was charged. The point is they shouldn’t be charging my damn bill anyway. This is why I don’t have my account set to make purchases. I can’t trust you fuckers not to charge things to my bill that aren’t supposed to be there, and I clearly can’t trust you not to try yet again to put that thing on my bill that’s not supposed to be there in the first place. Fuckers! They removed the charge from my bill, again.

I’ve not bought anything since. People tell me I should get subscriptions to things like Pandora to not have to listen to ads, but you know what? I’ll listen to the damn ads. It’s better than having to watch my bill like a hawk. It’s better than having to worry about pocket dialing a 14-Day Time Warp or two.

Chris McGinty (not pictured here) is a blogger and freemiun gamer, a blogafreemiumer, “Un bombafragola, Per dimenticare, Un’emozione fa, Volevo telefonare, Per dirti cambia il treno, Io non ci sto più, Cambierò me, Cambierò te, Cambierò bar.”

1 thought on “I’m the Free in Freemium Game Play

  1. Just for clarity, I loved Adventure Capitalist UNTIL they force-ditched the landscape mode for tablets. I found the portrait mode unplayable. I can’t say if I ever spent money on the game. I may have but it would have been less and $20. I do remember that I have spent $40 on Clash of Clans over the last 8 years but that was like 7 years ago.

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