Back in August 2014 when PJ wrote about Bioshock iOS, he made a point to note how most mobile/app games are simple in their approach and that they mostly fall into the free or “freemium” category. In terms of the latter, he described that as relying on ” frustration-based gimmicks or collectability or customization junk to get you to fork over your cash in microtransactions.” And to be completely fair, PJ has a point. There are a ridiculous number of games you can play on your smartphone or tablet that will, at one point or another, essentially beg you for cash if you want to advance. But not all of them are that way and, yes, the best ones can be enjoyed without spending a penny. With that in mind, I want to make it clear that “freemium” shouldn’t necessarily be a dirty word in gaming.
The biggest and most obvious reason that freemium games aren’t all bad? You don’t really have to pay to play them! Look, I know you just started a village in Boom Beach and feel compelled to spend some dough on diamonds just to upgrade your village but hey, you don’t have to! As someone who’s enjoyed this game, and others from developer Supercell, it’s quite easy to get ahead without throwing any money out the window (or into Supercell’s pockets, as it were).
How do you avoid doing that, you ask? By using some damn patience. Seriously, that’s all it takes for you to build a formidable village of resources, warriors, and buildings. I mean, not to reference that Bioshock article again, but PJ made the point that most people play mobile games in 15-minute blocks. Well, let’s say you cut that time down a third or so (to five minutes) and just play during a quick break at work, between classes, on your commute—you get the point. In taking this approach, you’re pretty much guaranteed to not spend any money or even feel compelled to, because you’re still building up your village and winning back islands in the archipelago. The thing is, you’re not draining your bank account to do so.
That sentiment rings true when it comes to what some could argue were the original freemium games—demos. Anyone who owned a PlayStation (we’re talking the PSX) remembers the glory days of getting demo discs to try out the latest games. Well, in some cases, freemium gaming follows the same model. This is particularly true at the Betfair gaming hub, where new users are encouraged to play demo versions of the available games before putting any actual money on the line. Not only that, but new players also receive sign-up bonuses that often allow you to get the full experience without spending anything. But you can spend money if you so choose, and it’s that decision that makes games such as these a very unique-to-the-user experience.
Having a more customized gaming experience is what game designer Sean Plott believes works so well in the freemium world, especially in multiplayer games like League of Legends. As he told Business Insider, “the goal is to create a game that brings players back for hundreds of hours of gameplay.” While that point seems a bit obvious, it’s actually what makes freemium games work so well—the more money that’s spent by users, he argued, the more that can be put back into the game. And in getting back to the original point, he said that “[s]pending money just adds customization to the experience.” Those who decide to participate in microtransactions and downloadable content are able to make the game their own, something that can’t be said for games that you buy at a flat rate and are never updated.
The thing is, freemium games are still a relatively new concept, and they have come a long way in their presentation. With that in mind, it’ll be interesting to see their evolution in the next few years, and if they can remain a sustainable concept for developers.