NYT on “pay up or wait” freemium games

In my prior post, I detailed how (from my perspective) Rovio has managed to just about ruin what had been one of the best game franchises in history: Angry Birds. The crux of the problem was the introduction of in-app purchases that are now required to get the best scores — combined with incessant nagging during game play to get you to spend money on these purchases. This strategy may be working well for Rovio’s short-term profits, but it comes at a cost that may well have a long-term negative effect.

As gamers no doubt know, this is not just restricted to Angry Birds. As it turns out, the front page of yesterday’s New York Times ran an article about increasing complaints regarding the spread of “freemium” games — where you download the game for free but then have to shell out significant money to actually play it:

…the freemium model is encountering some resistance. Regulators here and overseas are taking a closer look at whether some free games mislead consumers about the true costs of playing them and whether vulnerable players, like children, might be duped into spending money.

I don’t entirely oppose the idea of freemium apps. They can even be a good way to allow a “try before you buy” method for distributing a game. For example, after downloading a free game, you could play the first 5 levels, but then have to pay a reasonable fee to unlock the remaining levels.

What I object to is, as described in the New York Times article, more like the situation for the recently released Dungeon Keeper app:

The free mobile version of the game began its solicitations for in-app purchases early and with gusto. Players faced waits of 24 hours to dig out sections of earth to create their dungeons unless they spent real money to accelerate the process. A demon character taunted them to pay up.

Let’s hope that game developers, such as Rovio and Electronic Arts, begin to see their miscalculations here and that the pendulum begins to swing back in the other direction. I doubt freemium games will vanish from the landscape, but they can be made much less annoying, misleading, demanding and intrusive.

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