“It’s only 79 pence right?”

just-79p

Oh Angry Birds 2 — what a truly engaging and addictive game you are. These two words alone are exactly what games makers love to see attached to their labours of love. But in this case however, engaging and addictive are gateway words into the very thing that is utterly wrong with it, and many other games too.

In-app purchases are a great way to monetise software. Not just games of course, and they’re the perfect way to distribute features at the press of a buy button without having to manually install, restart, or otherwise interrupt your gaming session. But this gaming experience is at odds with how I like to play games. 

I remember being able to buy a game, and assuming I was suitably skilled and patient enough to take the many boss-level batterings, I could play it from beginning to end. And within that experience, I knew that somewhere was cheat code or hack that would allow me to float, walk through walls, or just take all the pain that any on-screen baddies wanted to inflict on me. The game was essentially mine to do with as I saw fit, and it was fun on so many levels.

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A depressing view of just how pervasive in-app-purchases are on the iOS App Store

But this new fangled free to play with in-app purchases or freemium as it seems to be tagged has just sucked the very essence of out gaming for me. Free to play for a while perhaps, but when the action starts getting hectic or downright impossible, the lure of in-app purchases gets too much and you’re approving the purchase of gems, shields, lives, new bad-ass weapons, or whatever methods are needed to get you to the next level that in quick time will undoubtedly put you right back in the same vicious cycle.

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The famous Konami cheat code. You should have it memorised!

As for tinkering… well that’s over too. Cheat modes are few and far between, and cracking open the code and tweaking a few hex digits is over. Why? Because that’s a direct assault on revenue streams these days, and absolutely not tolerated by the games makers. I’ve tried the odd iOS iFunbox based hack from time to time, only be to sternly told off that I was being a naughty boy by some server or other, and that I’d probably be getting a visit from big men with kneecap hammers. 

So back to Angry Birds 2. I downloaded it on the first night, and within a couple of days, I had reached level 25 reasonably easily. It’s at this point that things started to go wrong, and by wrong, I mean alarm bells beginning to go off about how hard this was getting and how I pretty much had no chance of getting beyond level 30 without doing an in-app purchase. 

So I binned the whole game and my Game Center stats too. “Rash” you might think, but I knew exactly where this was going. And it royally pisses me off.

On one level, in-app purchases are truly brilliant. With the click of the buy button, I can unlock new features and modes and simply add to my experience. But the much darker side is when it is done to feed into your addiction, and the necessity to get to the next level. You must buy more lives or whatever method the game employs to get you further. You need. You crave. 

It’s at this point that I begin to resent the game makers intensely, and liken them to filthy drug dealers preying on addicts who need to satiate their craving. Be it lives, guns, or just to dismiss that really bloody annoying waiting period, there’s a micro payments revenue stream based on addiction. Just one more hit and they’ll be fine. It’s only 79 pence right? 

Wrong. I’ve just done a quick tot up of my ‘only 79 pences’ over the last couple of years, and it must come to around £200. Now I’m a long way from being “a gamer” and I feel that I’ve been careful about my game spend too, so I can only imagine how much in the hole some hopelessly hooked gamers are. 

As much as I love to game instead of do actual work, the essence of the experience is leaving a bad taste in my mouth. If the games industry isn’t careful, it’ll find itself universally playing a game of Jumping Sharks. And no amount of in-app purchases will help at that point.

If you really want, you can grab Rovio’s Angry Birds 2 on either the iOS App Store or Google Play.

  • Phil Worrell

    Yep when you have played games from the bad old days having the option for a cheat or to keep going was fun. Walkthroughs are still helpful. Do you think the stores should have another category now. Truly free, in app purchases, and paid?

    My kid is 9 he loves all these games and I will install so called free games that are age appropriate. However every so often I get him coming back I need this dad and it is only …. He still does not get it.

    I drew the line the other week when he came to me to ask if he could by an online Minecraft server subscription. To his mind it was only $2.95, but did not realise that was Both a monthly subscription and the lowest level of service for which he would not get what he needed.

    I have in app purchases all switched off and all game downloads requiring the password, which he does not know. I keep testing him to make sure he doesn’t know it.

    • Yeah, it’s particularly dirty that these business models end up aiming at young kids. It’s good that Apple and Google have at least put some measures in place to control it. There’s also a category on the App Store for fully paid games!