With a brief spell of unemployment (and now gainfully employed, yay!), between job hunting, job interviews and all that other kick-them-while-they’re-down BS that goes with the territory, I needed to find a way to stave off anxiety and boredom, and to fill in the time in between. Sure, I did some sewing, did some reading, but they can only keep the mind engaged for so long. The mind needs an escape, if you will. Everyone needs an escape from the rabble of the mundane world, even job-seekers. (Let’s not start the job-seeker bashing, please – read my earlier blog post here).
With the advent of smartphones, apps and games have popped up all over the place. A majority of them are free, and available to download from either iTunes or Google Play, for Apple and Android devices respectively. A new business model for apps has emerged – The “Freemium” game. “Freemium” is a portmanteau of “Free” and “Premium”, meaning that the game is free to download and play, but to get premium items, the player has to pay a nominal fee to obtain various items, including virtual currency to spend on items in-game. And it has been hailed as the “way of the future” by certain game developers.
I don’t mind shelling out a few bucks on occasion for premium features, and I have done in the past. However, the Freemium business model, in some respects, has raised the ire of many gamers – All you have to do is go to the Facebook pages of some of these games and read the comments from players, on the comments section of an article or review on any game review website, or on the in-game forums of some of these games. In some cases, they are not so much free to play, as pay to win. The ethics of this business model has also been called into question, and some game developers have rearranged their business model so that cashed-up players don’t get an unfair advantage. After all, a winner should win based on skill, right?
In mid 2014, I ditched the Nokia N8 phone for a Samsung Galaxy. The first thing I did was check out the Google Play store, and downloaded apps that were virtually non-existent for Nokia. I could now navigate on Google Maps on the go (without having to print a map in advance), check public transport timetables and any scheduled delays in real time, get apps for lunar phases and the like, none of which I could do on the Nokia (and even if it did, it was painfully slow). If you searched for it, you’d find an app for it. And with the current Australian Government making a name for themselves for all the wrong reasons, it was only a matter of time before game developers started satirising Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey in their games. After seeing these games, I eventually gave in to temptation and downloaded…
Flappy Ears (Paranormal Games)
The objective: With his caricature oversized ears, get Tony Abbott’s head to fly through as many obstacles as possible without hitting the walls.
How much does it cost?: $0.99 to get rid of the ads.
Is it worth the money? To get rid of the ads, $0.99 is a bargain. Though by the reviews on Google Play, it seems that players are not too concerned if they hit the wall.
A game like this can be played for so long, until boredom creeps up and it’s time to find a new game. Among other games, I found…
The Sims Freeplay (EA Games)
Having played The Sims, The Sims 2, The Sims 3 and the comparatively mediocre The Sims 4, when I found The Sims Freeplay, I thought, “why not?” and downloaded it.
The objective: Much like the other games in the franchise, The Sims Freeplay is a life simulation game in which you create your Sims, move them in to a house, and let them live out their lives… under your complete control. “Playing God”, as I like to call it. With The Sims Freeplay, the game starts with one Sim that you create, then you can add a Sim at the next level, then one Sim every other level as you progress Right now, at Level 30, I have 23 Sims. Tasks have a set time, for example watching the news takes 5 minutes, or 4 minutes and 30 seconds with a premium TV set. Each task unlocks new features, including marrying your Sims, starting their families, ageing up to toddler, preteen, teenager and ageing up your adults to elders. With each level comes a quest, many of which have bonus items that you can earn if you complete the quest before a set time, usually within seven days of starting the quest. There are also bonus quests which unlock bonus items and hobbies. Items can be purchased with simoleons, lifestyle points and social points. Lifestyle points can also be used to expedite a task, to get through the task more quickly. Social points are earned by completing tasks in Facebook friends’ neighbourhoods, by connecting your Facebook account to the game.
Among other things, you can unlock pet fairies…
The tasks are not without their pitfalls. From the mild, when you plant a “genetically modified” seed…
It’s a lottery whether you get the plant or this beastie. The biggest pitfall is that regardless of how much of the virtual currency you’ve got, you have to be playing the game constantly to be able to get anywhere in the game. This means having to go to the online store to buy bundles of simoleons, lifestyle points and social points.
How much does it cost? The simoleon, Lifestyle Points and Social points are available in gradient bundles. The simoleons range from AUD$6.49 for 705,000 simoleons to AUD$129.99 for 31,750,000 simoleons. Lifestyle Points range from AUD$3.79 for 15 Lifestyle Points to AUD$129.99 for 3,500 Lifestyle Points. Social Points range from AUD$1.29 f0r 10 Social Points to AUD$129.99 for 2,000 Social Points. The virtual currency itself is used in the game to build houses, community buildings and buy items in the game. Lifestyle Points can only be used to buy cats and dogs in the game, add a baby to a household and bake a birthday cake. With the community buildings such as the mall, the movie studio etc, the cost to build gets more expensive as you progress in the game, from the added value to your neighbourhood. With some of the tasks, it becomes virtually impossible to play the game without shelling out some money to be able to get ahead in the game.
Is it worth the money? In the case of The Sims Freeplay, that’s a tough call. The answer is subjective; some players will say that it is, others say that it isn’t. However, there are ways of getting free Lifestyle Points. Watching ads, downloading other games to earn free Lifestyle Points. Which is how I got to…
Game of War: Fire Age (Machine Zone)
Game of War: Fire Age is a MMO strategy game, released in 2013 by Machine Zone. Like The Sims Freeplay, it is a Freemium game.
Game of War: Fire Age had a $40 million advertising budget featuring model Kate Upton. Athena, the system guide, is made in her likeness. Check out the video trailers for the game below:
The objective: Build your empire, form alliances, kill your enemies. When you start up, Athena will guide you through the user interface, showing you how to build and upgrade buildings.
You will choose your hero, choose your alliance, and away you go.
And you’re building and upgrading, researching to unlock the higher level troops, wall traps, strategic traps, strategic troops, hero power and the like, and you’re doing so well…
Then a Level 21 stonghold player teleports right next to you, sends in their 200,000+ army against your piddly little army to attack your lower level city… and you have to start all over again. Items such as peace shields to keep a city safe from attack, are either purchased with gold or from the alliance store. Players complete quests to earn alliance loyalty points and alliance funds, in order to stock the alliance store with these items. The peace shields available from the alliance store only last 8 hours, while the 24-hour, 3 day and 30 day peace shields can only be purchased with gold. There are other tactics to protect troops and your hero in the event should someone attack your city when you’re running low on peace shields. The research, building, training etc are all on set timers, you you either have to wait it out or get speed-ups to expedite the task. Gold isn’t easy to come by (it can be collected in small quantities from a gold resource tile in the game), and the only way to acquire enough gold for it to be of any use, is by purchasing it through the app store.
How much does it cost? The first bundle of gold and other goodies comes at a cost of a measly $5. No worries. Pay for the bundle, and away you go. However, when you get to the next bundle, it will be $10. The one after, $20. Then $51.00. The next one up after that is $109.00. There’s only one problem with this – it progresses upwards, and there’s no way back. Once the game starts flashing “The [insert time of year here] Super Sale! $X”, you won’t be getting all those goodies for that price again. All you have to do is read the user reviews on Google Play to see how much criticism this business model has. Non-paying players have a snowball’s chance in Hell in building anything up.
Is it worth the money? It’s amazing what people are capable of doing when they’re hiding behind pseudonyms, avatars and no real world consequences. Bigger players gang up on smaller players, and the only chance anyone has got in getting anywhere in the game is by shelling out the cash for their gold packs to get the necessary research completed in order to level up, and quickly. For combat, strategy, research? No. You’re going to get your arse kicked several times by Level 21 players before you even get to Level 21 yourself, regardless how much money you spend. For meeting other players? Yes, even if you’re not spending any money. Participate in the Kingdom Chat, and the Alliance Chat, and you’re making new friends in no time. And that is priceless.
When I’m not up for the purge (and I’m usually not up for getting my arse kicked by a Level 21 player with an inferiority complex), I wrap my city with a “blue skirt” (the slang term for a peace shield used by some of the other players), and log into Facebook for…
Fairyland on Facebook
Fairyland is a long running game connected to Facebook, in which players can grow gardens, attract and spot wildlife, and complete seasonal challenges organised by the developers. It is a browser game, but has no separate app at this stage. It can be played on a mobile browser, so players can play on the go.
The objective: Grow a garden, and plant specific plants to attract specific wildlife. The garden has nine spots for plants, feeding tables and other seasonal objects such as scarecrows (for Halloween) and Christmas trees, and other miscellaneous items such as the Advent Calendar (Christmas) in which it will show a type of wildlife a player needs to spot in order to get a particular plant pot for that day, and a bird’s nest in which birds attracted to a garden (and spotted by another player) will lay an egg and other players spot the hatchling.
There are other challenges where tasks need to be completed in order to unlock the next seed for planting. These include the Butterpillaflora challenge, in which players look for caterpillars in other players’ gardens. Spot the correct caterpillar (starting with the Wriggly Red Caterpillar), the caterpillar forms a chrysalis on the sprouting butterpillaflora in the player’s own garden. Other players are then challenged to spot the butterfly when the plant is fully grown. To spot wildlife, a player waters a plant in another player’s garden with feeding tables out, brimming with food. Certain foods attract certain wildlife. Plant the correct plants, leave out the correct food, and the critters will come.
It all seems nice and serene… until one day, when you’re stalking another player’s garden because a critter is due to feed, and you think you’re only moments away from spotting the critter – only for anther player to swoop in and spot the critter. Sometimes it is done intentionally, other times it’s not. In both instances, there are players who do not seem to care that they swooped someone, even in a garden with a “no swooping” rule (and sometimes, those rules are rarely enforced). Regardless, the poor sod who had spent an hour in a garden will not be pleased. I have swooped, and I have been swooped. But, to stalk a garden for that long, requires gold (yes, another game where gold is the virtual currency).
It costs 1 gold to water a plant, 2 gold to revive a wilting plant (or 1 diamond, if you’re low on gold). You can get gold in 3-hour intervals, starting with 10 gold, then 5 gold every three hours. The 10 gold can only be collected once every 24 hours. Similarly, “snail gold” which you get when spotting a snail when reviving a wilting plant, can only be collected once every three hours. If the gold reserves are really low, there’s always the option to buy gold.
How much does it cost? In US dollars, $5 for 300 gold and 1 bonus “star dust”, $40 for 3,600 gold and 10 star dust. The scale is not set up in the same way as Game of War: Fire Age, so if you start with a $5 bundle of gold, you’re not going to be pushed up to the higher bundles.
Is it worth the money? It is, but wait, there’s more! Every so often, there will be a special deal known as the “double star dust” weekend. This means that instead of 10 star dust with that $40 purchase, you’ll get 20, and 2 star dust for the $5 one, and so on. Depending on how frequently you play, that $40 will be a long stretch. You will not be disadvantaged if you are away from the game for extended periods, in fact, your garden will freeze automatically after seven days of inactivity. So absolutely, it is value for money. The developers are doing their bit to help the planet, too – when a player harvests a plant, it protects anywhere from 3 square feet upwards of rainforest, depending on the plant being harvested. The developers donate regularly to a rainforest protection program, and so far have donated $97,ooo since 2008.
A game developer who recognises that they won’t have a business on a dead planet.
After the feeding tables are topped up, there’s only so much watering and critter spotting before it’s time to move on to the next game, so…
MoviePop is a trivia game, where the player is shown five 10-second movie clips sequentially, and the player has to correctly guess the movie, the director or the lead actor/ess. It can be played on Facebook or on a separate app, in which you can log in with your Facebook account to play against your Facebook friends, and other players.
The objective: Choose another player to play against. This can be a Facebook friend or other player. Choose a genre, e.g. Fantasy, Horror, Blockbusters. You have to guess each clip correctly, and the faster your guess, the higher your score. You earn coins with each game – 3 if you win, 1 if you lose (and a 2x bonus on either for games against a Facebook friend). The purpose of the coins is to purchase more playlists in the game, on top of the handful of playlists you will get for free when you start up. Most playlists will set you back 399 coins each, and new playlists are added regularly.
In each playlist, every time you play one, you work your way towards unlocking more clips with every three correct streak.
How much does it cost? Free, but your gameplay will be interrupted with ads. To get rid of those pesky ads, you can buy a VIP subscription. You can get a one-week trial for AUD$1.99, and if you like it, you can upgrade to a monthly VIP for $4.99. If you are a dedicated MoviePop player, you can get an annual subscription for AUD$39.99. The benefits of a VIP subscription include extended gameplay (you can play against up to 80 people at any one time), no ads, and other benefits. Alternatively, you can buy coins in the app from $1.99 for 400 coins, to $24.99 for 10,000 coins.
Is it worth the money? Well, it depends on how big a movie buff you are! The selection of movies varies from playlist to playlist, and clips from the same movies are repeated in some of the genres. This can get tedious, but you also have to remember that FreshPlanet are probably limited in how many movies they can use – they will need the necessary permissions from the copyright holders of those movies to use the clips in the app, likely for a nominal fee. FreshPlanet are making money from their app, and do you think the copyright holders are going to let them have a free ride? Ultimately, the more games you play, the quicker you will accumulate the coins to be able to buy more playlists. Buying the coins will certainly help rapidly increase the playlists in your arsenal, but you will be entertained enough with your existing repertoire to slowly build on. Furthermore, there are no time limits on special items, if there are any at all. You can be away from the game for months on end, and not be disadvantaged. So I would give the answer to the “value for money” question a qualified “yes”.
Added bonus: It may evoke your interest in movies you have not seen. For instance, its appearance in the game got me interested in wanting to watch the movie Children of Men.
Movies isn’t the only topic that FreshPlanet have touched on…
Like MoviePop, SongPop is a trivia game, but you’re guessing the song, either by title or artist, and can be played on Facebook or on a separate app. The user interface is identical to MoviePop, save for a different colour theme.
The objective: The setup is like MoviePop, only you are guessing the correct song title or artist. Select your playlist, (e.g. metal, 90s alternative, surf rock) and guess the correct songs or artists as quick as you can, and hope and pray that your opponent is slower than you. Like in MoviePop, you earn coins in each game, and you can use them to buy more playlists. Unlike MoviePop, however, you can disable and re-enable playlists, so that you’re not always getting the boring free ones that you got when you first started playing the game.
How much does it cost? Like MoviePop, the game is free but you have to contend with ads. A VIP subscription is available in SongPop, with similar benefits. Coins can similarly be purchased from the app store, all around the same price range as MoviePop.
Is it worth the money? For the same reasons as with MoviePop, I give a qualified “yes”.
So, are these Freemium games worth their salt?
Overall, there are people who are willing to make in-app purchases. Whether it was worth it, depends on the individual. The marketing of the in-app purchases can be quite aggressive, as can be seen in Game of War: Fire Age, or the tasks required to complete an objective are so out of reach that real money needs to be spent for virtual money (I’m looking at you, The Sims Freeplay) in order to complete the tasks without spending an inordinate amount of time to do so. But, it will only be a matter of time before another new game comes in and puts a boot to the competition.