Play Free or Die


Kristin Devine

Kristin is a geek, a libertarian, and a domestic goddess. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of

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26 Responses

  1. Avatar Ozzzy! says:

    Ugh freemium games always leave me disappointed. Maybe name the cat Ten Spot?Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    That’s the eternal problem with “free” with a “but” at the end.

    The only thing worse than the “free, but” games are the “totally free” ones like Twitter.Report

  3. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    I think there are two things going on:

    1) Most of these game developers have no clue what the sweet spot is for pricing. Some are really good at it, others suck.

    2) Foreign gaming markets impact pricing a lot. One game I played was infested with Chinese gold farmers who would spend a ton of money to level up incredibly fast, and then spend the game attacking everyone else for loot. I had to quit playing it.Report

    • Avatar pillsy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Evidently a lot of what makes freemium games profitable is the same thing that makes casinos profitable. While there are a bunch of people who never spend a dime, and a bunch more like Kristin who spend a modest amount, there’s a small fraction of players who will just keep pouring money in, to the tune of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

      Frequently those people are completely unable to afford this, and are blowing rent money and car payments on Monopoly money and imaginary hats. It’s more about obsessive and addictive behavior than ordinary fun.

      So not only is that ugly and exploitative (which is definitely the worst part from my point of view), but it also degrades the game for folks who just want to spend a few bucks on a fun game. All in all it’s kind of a shitty setup.Report

    • Yes that seems to be what happened on PVZ Heroes (a Plants Vs. Zombies card game like Magic the Gathering) which I used to play for free. Tons of players who had bought every upgrade in the game and it was impossible to win. After spending a couple seasons losing 4 out of 5 games to people who would beat me with some super rare card, I decided it wasn’t worth my time to play any more.Report

  4. Avatar James K says:

    I straight-out refuse to play any game with a Premium currency or similar sorts of microtransactions. As you say, the existence of those systems is evidence the gameplay will be compromised. It was Plants vs Zombies 2 that taught me that.Report

  5. Avatar George Turner says:

    The last game I payed list price for came on an Atari 2600 cartridge . Once I became a programmer, my philosophy has been “I own the computer now, and I’m not feeding it any quarters!”

    The whole industry probably hates me.Report

  6. The model is pretty straightforward: It’s hard to get $50 bucks up front on a new purchase. It’s much easier to get someone to pay small increments to continue to play a game they already enjoy. And when the next upgrade arrives, the sunk costs fallacy says “I’ve already spent $100 on this game; I can’t throw that away that now.”

    I was going to contrast the price of video games with the old-fashioned kind, but apparently you can spend $300 on a cribbage board.

    • try pricing “nice” chess sets.

      I am not a gamer. When I got my smartphone I tried out Candy Crush because I know so many people who love it. After hitting a couple levels where I was given the choice to pony up some bucks or wait a set time period before trying again (probably with the same results), I said “eh” and deleted the app.

      Also a lot of games of that sort feed my anxiety because you are being timed or have to complete some kind of difficult task and that’s too much of my worklife for it to be relaxing in a game.

      I have two games on my phone: a variant of the 2048 game and Neko Atsume. And I’m not even sure Neko Atsume is so much a game as a sort of tamagotchi-where-the-creatures-cannot-die. But I really, really like Neke Atsume….Report

  7. Two things before I get into the subject of the post. First, I’m glad to see you back at the OT again! You’re a really wonderful writer. Second, sorry you’re going through a tough time, it seems. 🙂

    I’ve spent a lot of time on two freemium games that have very different models, one I like, one I don’t.

    The first is Pokemon Go and I love their business model. You can play it completely free and be a top player. The premium part is just buying more raid passes or incubators and stuff. And that doesn’t magically give you awesome Pokemons. It just lets you play the game more. I love that model because I don’t feel like I have to spend money not to get left behind. And the game is making a fortune.

    The second is Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes. And while I like it, it is VERY oriented around spending to succeed. They are constantly coming out with new characters that dominate over the old ones and you either tediously farm for six months or spend a small fortune getting them. The last one was so bad, the game is now hemorrhaging players fed up with the BS.

    I’m willing to spend money to buy a game. I’m even willing to spend a few bucks a month to enhance it (e.g., the monthly fees games like World of Warcraft charge, although I don’t play any of those). But this business of trying to get people to spend hundreds even thousands of dollars to win? No thank you.Report

    • Thanks, Mike.

      You sound like you’re my kind of player – I’m not unwilling to pay money for a game, or even to upgrade it, it’s just so UNREASONABLE and in the case of LG, sneaky, it rubs me completely the wrong way and sours me on the whole experience.Report

  8. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “Ever since I had the brutal realization that my life is like the Fyre Festival, where you travel halfway around the world and pay tens of thousands of dollars to mill around a parking lot in the pouring rain while choking down a slice of American cheese on white bread wondering “gee whiz, could I actually die here?” and some other people who are a lot worse of human beings than you than you are reap all the benefits from it, I’ve pretty much given up on everything…”

    this sounds like it should be followed by “…but if you want to make some nice sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, try this recipe: five medium-size potatoes, two tablespoons of cinnamon, a half-cup of brown sugar, a quarter-cup of fresh sour cream…”Report

  9. Avatar Fish says:

    Welcome back, Kristin! Nice to have something of yours to read again.

    HAAAAAAAAATE the “free to play” and the “freemium” models so much. There are a couple of PC games that my boys play that follow this model. I once challenged my boys to keep a log of how much of their hard-earned money they were spending on these games and they wouldn’t do it.

    Lately my taste in games has run more toward games with high replayablility or sandbox factors, like XCOM, Oxygen Not Included, and Darkest Dungeon (all PC games and none of them freemium so I don’t know how relevant any of this is to your post…). Games that you pay for once and can get a bazillion hours of enjoyment out of.Report

  10. Avatar blake says:

    I consider a lot of these strategies legitimately evil. They’re whale hunting, basically, looking for the addictive personalities.

    I think it was “Candy Crush” where they would put the hard puzzles in front of you, and if you paid for a solution, they’d put even HARDER puzzles in front of you. I’m sure it was a lucrative strategy: Once you’ve opened your wallet, you’re more willing to open it a second time.

    Much like with books and movies, I have hundreds of games. And I realize that I will never play them. There isn’t enough time (cue Burgess Meredith). But the thing is I bought them cheap (back in the day you could walk into a game store and pick up tons of CDs for <$10 and right now Humble Bundle has a 66-games for $30 package) and I own them.

    Well, the new online e-stuff's dodgy as to ownership, but if I want to sit down and play a game through (which I do once every 2-3 years lol) I can do that without paying another dime.

    And I plan to step it up once I get through the 500 or so unread books I have. 2025 is going to be a great year for video gaming…Report

  11. Avatar blake says:

    On an unrelated note, I really enjoyed the original PVZ. Even though it was a VERY casual tower-defense game:

    1) I love tower defense games
    2) +1000 points for sheer style

    I played through it several times, and with my kids. I played through it enough to realize you couldn’t actually lose early on. (The zombies would always come out on the lane with the lawnmower.) I would’ve loved to see a sequel that just built on that and added a little more difficulty.

    I was really, really disappointed that PVZ2 was not a game you could just buy and play. I don’t think it ever came out with a PC version, either.Report

  12. Avatar Ruthee says:

    Thanks for the article. I found it searching for anyone else out there who had noticed the anti-free-market bias in Lily’s story. How interesting to find that the game uses the free market to make a profit off its players, and they do it dishonestly or fraudulently. I’m not a libertarian because it supports immoral businesses that harm civilization’s foundational institution: Family. However, I believe in the free market that our nation was founded on. It seems that those who are against it are making LOTS of money with it.Report