It is both inspiring and concerning how mobile gaming has evolved over the years. There was a time when we marvelled the brilliance and simplicity of Snake II on the Nokia 3310, now, it stands as a relic of what mobile gaming once was.
The current mobile gaming scene has detached itself from being just another feature on a phone to become a multi-billion dollar power house. By utilising micro-payments, publishers have figured out an ingenious method to siphon extra cash out of its audience whilst providing at times lesser content or quality in comparison to the standard video game model. This model does not need to rely on the number of units sold to validate its success, its only concern is whether or not it has managed to successfully bleed the consumer of every last potential penny.
While it may sound like a product concocted by Satan himself, there was a time when this model was actually consumer friendly and helpful to developers. The model complimented small indie teams that could not afford high quality studios or AAA quality software, instead, it acted as a meritocratic system that gradually rewarded developer’s efforts as they attempted to expand their brand.
Usually, games were of a relatively low standard but developers would attempt to remedy this flaw by lifting the price barrier and make it free. In order to gain income, these games are fitted with several mechanics that give the gamer the option to pay money but are by no means forced to part with their cash. One of the most popular methods used by developers is the stamina/lives system that restricts the user’s playability by making a cooldown on lives so the player waits till they can proceed. Players are then offered the simple choice of waiting, paying a minor fee or in some cases watch an advert in exchange for an extra life. The latter was deployed rather well in Beach Buggy Racer 2 which resulted in me completing the game without having to wave goodbye to my student loan.
This particular model complimented King’s Candy Crush Saga extremely well, resulting in King generating an unbelievable $1.5 billion (£1.15 billion) in revenue from small payments back in 2013. While it seems like the decision to pay up is in the consumer’s court, major publishers caught wind of the models success and have exploited it to high heaven. Publishers have figured out that mobile gamer’s prerogative does not revolve around fantastic quality or riveting storylines but more so around a time dictated format.
Unlike the standard model where games are created to be played at home in a stationary environment, the mobile model thrives off people who are constantly working or busy. The role of these games are to provide a short term sensation that does not demand a high investment like traditional video games, but this has become exploited by certain developers in order to create a cash grab. Unfortunately, Madfinger’s Dead Trigger 2 fell into the trap of abusing consumer’s valuable time by creating a strict ‘paywall’ that impedes progress.
The game’s core mechanic is a standard horde based FPS that has the player perform tasks within a small time frame, these goals can vary from survival or gathering supplies whilst maintaining a high standard of gameplay (felt close to PlayStation 3 quality). However, in order to progress the player is left with the daunting task of upgrading their base to research new guns, grenades and med kits which can take in the late game over a week to upgrade a single vendor. Alternatively, that time can be slashed if you would like to pay for a chunk of freemium currency with your real cash.
This creates an ultimatum rather than a choice by holding your invested time ransom, pay up or give up are your choices and most will cave for the convenience. This births a controversial pay to win mentality that creates a hierarchy within the game’s respective community. Rather than encouraging meritocracy, it encourages a breed of elitists who feel that because they parted with a portion of their hard earned money they are entitled to the best stuff.
On the other hand, this makes players feel left out or struggle when it comes to events which can result in a player feeling forced into paying more than they deem the product is worth. It’s disappointing to see such a well thought out game and talented developer advertise “In-app Products £1.69 – £89.99” as if it’s a good thing. The issue with parting such excessive amounts on these games is the lack of a proper endgame which means you never truly complete the game, just stagnate until a new challenge appears to help justify the transactions. While Dead Trigger 2 has its low points it has not been as blatant and underwhelming as Niantic’s Pokémon Go has been this past month to its target consumer.
Back in July, Pokémon Go went live and was highly anticipated due to an amazing trailer aimed to hype its launch that boasted several features that aren’t currently in the game. Two major elements of the game are trading and battling friends but as it currently stands you can only attack and defend (sort of) gyms and the trade system is non-existent. While these features will most likely be in at a later date it feels disingenuous to heavily feature core elements of the game in a trailer to hype its launch.
What made this game particularly disappointing is how the games pretty much a goldmine in cities but if you are in a rural area, my condolences. After trudging around an area on the outskirts of Birmingham, it was increasingly apparent that people who live in rural areas have little to no method of obtaining items, including Pokéballs, but whilst strolling through Sheffield’s high street it was Pokéstops galore.
This makes the freemium model almost a necessity to those who are not in cities by threatening to completely exclude fans from playing unless they cough up the money. It would make sense how Niantic generated $206.5 million (£157 million) in revenue from its first month alone that people were desperate to play, that and people who genuinely felt compelled to purchase lures and incense for reasons unbeknownst. The game itself is of a mediocre quality as its main feature to capture Pokémon feels like a Pokémon reskin of Paper Toss, but with chance of the bin spitting the ball back out to annoy you, then the bin bails.
This mechanic becomes increasingly annoying once trainer level is past 20 (currently level 23) when even Pidgey can put up a good fight, causing a grinding halt on experience progression and resources. Also, the games reliance on GPS to guide the player in his or her quest to hunt down exotic Pokémon can be laborious with its ambiguity regarding Pokémon that ‘are near’ which usually results in arbitrarily walking around until the Pokémon has fled. Never the less the game is infectious and has expert branding to make this game a huge success. It scratches an itch gamers and fans have had for the beloved franchise for 20 years. Using augmented reality to make the player feel like Pokémon are in their world is something of fantasy and unimaginable back in the 90’s, it’s just a shame it’s layered under a cynical marketing ploy to get people to shell out heaps of money for an average at best game. Hopefully the model regains some of its self-respect and developers stray from forcing the players hand but then you need to ask yourself, is a company’s honour worth more than $200 million for a month’s work?