Love & Hate & Free-To-Play Time Based Strategy Games with Micro Transactions

by kaminazo

That title is a mouthful. Let’s break it down a little. First, I want to talk about one of my favorite App games: Clash of Clans. I want to talk about it because I both love and hate it. I’ve played it to death, so I have some experience grinding through all the little nuances.


Why do I love it? Well, it’s free. It’s really well-programmed. The graphics are crisp and stylish. And building and destroying bases is really fun with your friends in a clan. That said, the game is potentially ruining modern games for independent designers–and ruining mobile and app gaming in general, putting profit over playability. First, it’s free to play.

What? It’s free! Awesome! This company must be a bunch of suckers, right? Well, it ain’t such a big deal for a big company like Supercell in Helsinki, Finland.

They have a lot of things most indie designers don’t have, namely a $12 million investor. But also, they have a big server, a giant advertising campaign, and a team that can crank out lots of new content and tons of updates to breathe new life into the game as it ages. They make their money back on a relatively new concept called micro-transactions. A free game like Clash of Clans looks a lot more appealing to the casual App-Store surfer than the indie designer’s $0.99 game.

Patience is a virtue some gamers possess if they are grinding–repeating a task over and over again to gain a skill or item. But many gamers have zero patience for a game that slows them down in any way. My patience disappears when a timer won’t even allow me to try. Micro-transactions are like a clot in my gaming heart. I’m about to unlock a dragon! I need to upgrade my Town Hall. But–”You don’t have any builders, they won’t be available for another 3d 4hr 36min 5sec.” My heart arrests. “Buy another builder for 30 gems.” I only have 10 gems. My left arm goes numb. But I can buy a chest of 20 gems for $9.99. So either I fork over ten bucks or wait half a week to play my game?! HEART ATTACK.

Hang on. Let’s start over. So I can play your game for free and test it out. Or I can buy a different game up front for $0.99 without playing it?

No-brainer. But now that I’ve put some time into your free game, you won’t let me play it unless I pay 10x the normal game price for an exhaustible in-game resource? But once I spend the gems on another builder, I’m back to where I started “Wait for 2d 3hr 45min 10sec.” Am I supposed to buy gems every time I make a decision just so I can play?!

Why didn’t I just spend $0.99 on ten different games? (facepalm)

Let me propose an analogy. Micro-transactions are to gamers as heroin is to everyone. You gotta have a lot of money to support the habit, but in the long run it becomes an addiction. It’s like all games are becoming online gambling. Oh, and screw poor people. If you’re poor, you can still kinda play the game, but you’ll never have the same opportunity as the money-players. Have fun waiting!

These game stimulants go by many names now: Micro-transactions, In-App Purchases (IAP), Unlock Keys, Downloadable Content (DLC), and Apple’s newest genre for games that are free (at first)–GET+. The industry seems to be catering more and more to this format of game design and it’s disturbing. Clash of Clans is actually a good game with lots of well-designed and fun content. But, games will get simpler, more derivative, and more locked down. On second thought…

“GAME OVER.  CONTINUE? (2 CREDITS)” The coin clinks into the slot and Jin lives another day to uppercut Yoshimitsu.

Maybe the industry is just modernizing the way that games made us plug more coins into the machine in the past. The home console killed the arcade machine (the old skool IAP), now the mobile device is avenging its death in a way?

Not exactly. If I put up the money to buy my own arcade box, you better believe I won’t be using quarters. We’re already coughing up $400+ on mobile devices, but they don’t seem to have free play buttons. Is it just me or has the coin slot been twisted and made much worse? The quarter for credits system was much simpler. Now we need a device and App Store credit to get a game with micro-transactions for gems to kinda-sorta play for a bit. The industry knows it can get gamers hooked and undercut the non-free-to-play developers while raking in dough. They will continuously profit off our impatience without having to release new games all the time to keep us interested. Cower as the rise of the GET+ game cometh. I think the way it’s going, they’re gonna tear us all a new coin slot.