Free to play games are designed to separate you from your money. This is not new information to anyone. However, they are profitable. Candy Crush alone has generated millions of dollars in profit (http://www.businessinsider.com/king-digital-announces-150-million-buyback-2014-11). I always wondered, what kind of a complete idiot gives their money to such stupid games…until I became that very same idiot. So I’m sharing my story so that you can all learn from my mistakes. You gain nothing by giving money to a FTP game. Read on and you can understand what I mean.
I downloaded the “Spider-Man Unlimited” app off the Google Play Store about 3 months ago. It’s a typical infinite runner type game in the vein of Temple Run with a few enhancements. These enhancements include a story mode as well as boss fights. As a huge fan of Spider-man, I loved it. Not only did the game feature a great rogue’s gallery of classic villains but it also includes all the various incarnations/costumes of Spider-Man. So what was the catch? Well, each character has levels and all the story missions required a minimum level to be able to play said level. Of course, the actual levels were arbitrary. There was nothing a level 90 Spider-man could do that a level 1 could not. It was simply an artificial barrier to extend gameplay. To gain levels, one had to combine multiple Spider-Men of the same costume and after level 30 (of 100) it becomes increasingly difficult - if not impossible - to do this without spending crystals. Crystals could be obtained by beating missions but in meager amounts. To truly obtain a lot of them, you had to fork over real cash. To do otherwise meant playing for hours upon hours slowly accumulating a stockpile. Even then, there was no guarantee you’d get the exact character you wanted. There was at least 15 different varieties and you paid for an opportunity to get one at random, meaning that in most instances, you had to make multiple purchases of a specific category. Each category had anywhere from 5 to 10 possible Spider-Men you could be randomly assigned. Essentially, the game was counting on the fact that you’d get impatient and choose to pay your way towards obtaining the character/level you needed to proceed with the story until you hit the next roadblock.
This itself didn’t bother, upset, or surprise me. The game would’ve been infinitely better if you could’ve paid once to enjoy the majority of the content and simply been given the option of different skins/abilities as DLC; but that was simply not the case and there was no use crying over spilled milk. I was going to enjoy the game for what it was and move on without spending a single dime. So where did I go wrong? In one word, events. In what I have to admit is a brilliant marketing move, the game is experiencing a crossover with the current storyline of the Spider-man comic called “Spider-verse.” The jist of the story involves having every Spider-Man EVER to confront an evil that is hunting them across dimensions.
Within the context of the game, there are 24 hour “events” which have different goals such as accumulating a certain number of points, killing a certain number of bosses, or traveling a certain distance each day. Each event has 2 kinds of rewards. The first being a participation reward; travel x distance and get y number of crystals. The second and more insidious reward is that the top 5 scores from each day earned a special Spider-man skin. The combination of competing against my fellow players and earning a special reward got me very excited. I was a pretty good player and would often be in the top 20 of each day’s events. I figured that if only I could get a slightly higher score, I’d be on top. Like most runners, one’s score in the game was directly tied to their score multiplier. The score multiplier in turn was tied directly into the level of your character. The higher your level, the higher the score multiplier. The events added an additional wrinkle, if you used some of the more special/rare skins, you’d get a 5x bonus to your multiplier. I figured that even having one such boost would make all the difference. Last but not least, the game does everything it can to tempt you into spending real money. It does this by giving you a rotating “daily deal”. One such deal is a “flash sale” which gives you a much higher number of crystals than normal for the same amount of money. I reasoned that by spending these crystals I’d be able to obtain one of the special characters, giving me a 5x boost which would easily allow me to obtain a 1-5th place in the daily rankings. Not only would I have bragging rights but being that high up in the ranking gives you the special character AND additional crystals, it would be a win-win! I dropped $40 over two separate purchases and was able to obtain several rare skins which gave my multiplier over a 10x boost! Surely, I would have no trouble obtaining the number 1 spot now!
Unfortunately, that was not to be the case. If anything, I found that now it was increasingly difficult to approach even the top 20. This was quite frustrating. I figured that logically, other people must’ve had the same thought as me.That everyone else had ALSO spent money but even more than myself and had used the purchased crystals and characters to give themselves an even bigger boost. At this point, common sense finally kicked in and I refused to spend any more money on the game figuring there was always going to be someone else willing/able to throw more money at it. As I found out, the truth was even worse than that.
During the height of my interest in the game, I had told a coworker about it and how much fun it was. When I got to work on Monday, he excitedly told me about how he had ranked 6th on one of the events over the weekend. I was very impressed since I was having such difficulty and asked him what his score had been. The answer was quite confusing, his score had been much lower than mine but according to what he said, his rank had been much higher. We pulled out our phones to compare the leaderboard and to my horror, we realized that they were completely different. It seems like that game has what I can only assume to be several leaderboards based on your potential high score and not a single unified list. While on the one hand, it’s nice that more players had the opportunity to win the prizes, it was an awful blow for me. The game never makes it clear that there are multiple leaderboards. As such, spending my money had not benefited me in the slightest. I had simply moved up the potential score bracket with nothing to show for it but some stupid skins!
I wanted to share my story so that you can avoid making the mistakes I’ve made. While my buyers regret was tremendous, I was also reminded of a very valuable lesson. These games exist to separate you from as much of your money as they can get. Don’t be an idiot like myself, avoid them altogether or if do play them, remember that even giving the developer $1 dollar encourages them to make more of these kinds of games that ultimately make their players feel miserable sooner or later.
What are your thoughts on free-to-play games? Like them or loathe them, let us know by sounding off in the comments!