If you own an iOS device and haven’t yet purchased a copy of Rayman Jungle Run, congratulations! You are the problem with mobile gaming. I won’t get into why you should play Rayman Jungle Run — you can read my review for that — but I will reassure you that it is a game that you pay for once and then never have to pay anything for ever again. (At the moment, anyway.)
On the surface, it’s easy to see why the freemium/free-to-play sector has exploded quite so much. People casually browsing for things are always going to be immediately more attracted to things that say “Free” on them rather than things that say “$2.99″ on them, regardless of whether or not that “Free” comes with a caveat, which it usually does. But there’s a growing level of discontent and frustration with this fact, particularly among “core” gamers — or, more specifically, people who have been playing games for many years. We’ve reached a stage now where this demographic actually wants to seek out paid games and apps because they know that “Free” tag always comes with a catch — and, sadly, more and more paid games are also coming with “Get More Coins!” buttons and unbalanced gameplay attached in an attempt to squeeze more and more money out of their player base.
I always have a curious sense of hypocrisy over this issue. I mean, my day job is reviewing mobile and social games, after all, and from a critical perspective I have to consider each title from a business perspective as well as that of the player — is the game going to make enough money for the developer for it to have been worthwhile? I can do this with no problem — though I will call out titles that are obviously taking the piss with their monetisation strategies — but it doesn’t stop me from having a sour taste in my mouth whenever I’m “off the clock”, as it were. I’ve dialed back my consumption of iOS games massively since realising that the vast majority of them are little more than time and money sinks designed as not-particularly-subtle attempts to extract players’ money from them. And many developers and publishers don’t even attempt to hide this fact — we’re dealing with an industry that refers to users who spend a lot of money on in-app purchases and DLC as “whales”, after all, which should give you an idea of the sort of people we’re dealing with a lot of the time.
Now, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t make money from their creations. Quite the opposite, in fact — I told you at the start of this post that you should pay money and download Rayman Jungle Run, for example, because it’s great. But herein lies the rub — you should pay money for things that you think are worth money, things that you want to support, not things that are designed to psychologically manipulate you into pressing that “Get More Coins!” button. As soon as you become aware of a game’s business model, it stops being quite so fun — at least, that’s how I feel. Apparently I’m in something of a minority, though.
There’s a problem with the system as it stands right now, which is partly why this situation has arisen. The distorted sense of value that the App Store has brought means that if people see anything that costs more than a dollar, they won’t buy it unless they’re absolutely sure it’s worth the money. (These people are probably the same people who will happily spend four or five dollars on a coffee — yes, I’m aware that I’m English and automatically using dollars as my default currency, but that’s what you get after working for American employers for the last two years — and consequently are quite happy to throw their money at something they will piss out within an hour or two) To exacerbate this fact, there is no requirement for app developers to provide a free trial of their products. Some do anyway, either by offering a free “lite” version of the app or distributing the app for free then unlocking it via in-app purchase, but there are many cases where it is impossible to “try before you buy” — so people end up not buying at all, instead reaching for those ever-tempting “free” apps and their spiderweb of monetisation.
Free trials won’t solve the issue entirely, obviously, but they would be a good start. Personally speaking, I just find it a crying shame that a gaming platform with as much obvious potential as iOS (and, to a lesser extent due to lack of support by many developers, Android) finds itself focusing on shallow, fun-free timesinks rather than truly creative games — of which there are many available that go completely unnoticed. Quality games like Rayman Jungle Run should be celebrated and championed; crap like Tap Campus Life should be ridiculed.
That’s enough for now.
Oh, one final thing. Buy Rayman Jungle Run.