Play Free or Die
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 and now I play video games all day. I figure, my actual life is pointless and terrible anyway, why not do something pointless and terrible where at least I can actually effing win??
I haven’t played video games much for a good while. I don’t have a smartphone because I have no one to talk to anyway and it seems like most games are for phones now. But as it turns out, you can play phone games on your Chromebook now so I was off to the races.
I started off with Plants Vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time. I’d actually tried to play this game a few years ago when it first came out, but I found it was really just about impossible to progress in the game without paying actual money.
Plants Vs. Zombies 2, you see, is what they call a “freemium” game. Most of you probably know what that is, but for those who don’t, it means that while the game is technically free to play, it’s difficult to progress in the game without buying stuff, and you miss out on a lot of the fun bells and whistles unless you pay.
I’m ok with the latter, not so much with the former. The reason is because in order to compel you to pay money, they basically break the game by making it so dull and tedious that it’s no fun at all to play unless you throw money at it to make it go away. Or as someone once said, in an essay I can’t find right now and of course my laptop is breaking so I can barely surf the Internet to look for it because that’s just how life seems to work for me, they don’t make you pay to play the game, they make you pay not to play it. They make you pay to skip the parts of the game that are terrible.
I would rather just pay 2.99 for the damn game and be done with it, but late stage capitalism and all that.
In Plants Vs. Zombies 2, you have to both watch ads and grind your way through some fairly tedious and frustratingly difficult stuff to get to the point at which the game becomes fun. I found the early levels impossible without powerups and I beat the original game like 5 times and am pretty good with a sunflower. I don’t even know how a person who’d never played before could win the early levels without either watching tons of ads (which is what I did in the end) or spending actual money on it.
This doesn’t seem like a big deal; after all, like I said I’d be willing to pay 2.99 for a game, but the extra stuff in Plants Vs. Zombies 2 is ridiculously expensive. You can get these extra strong plants that I’m sure would enable you to whip through the early levels – plus as anyone who has ever played Pokemon knows, collecting is fun! – but they are $4.99 FOR ONE PLANT. That’s right, for an image on a screen, it’s five bucks a pop. They have a dozen or more plants to buy (some plants are limited time only so there are probably way more than I know about) so in order to collect all the plants you would be in it for a hundred bucks easily. And to make it extra lucrative, if you have several different people playing different profiles on one computer, you have to rebuy the plant for every one of them.
As someone who sells digital information online myself for a living, this is one of those selling strategies I don’t understand. I personally believe if you make your stuff temptingly affordable, more people buy it, and you make more money in the end. This feels instinctively true to me. Not only is overly expensive stuff overly expensive, it also carries with it an “eff u” factor that puts me off buying. Others believe that if you make stuff super expensive, it carries with it a certain cache that it’s valuable and so people who like that sort of thing buy it anyway, whereas maybe they wouldn’t if it seemed too common, or something, I guess. Supposedly you end up making just as much money even though less people buy the stuff.
I don’t know anyone who thinks that way, though. Seriously, who doesn’t love a bargain?
All I know is that I ain’t buying no 4.99 pea plant that shoots imaginary ice balls at pretend zombies. I might’ve paid 4.99 for 10 different fun plants, but not for one! And I would never pay money for powerups you use once and then are gone forever.
So why DO people pay that kind of money for plants or powerups or whatever? Because some people do, I assume, or the entire model would have gone the way of the caveman zombie.
I can kind of answer that question because I did just pay actual money for a game.
PVZ 2 is fun and everything but after I beat most of the levels, I started looking around for something else to take my mind off the Fyre Festival that is my life. I kept seeing these really weird ads for this game called Lily’s Garden and decided to give it a whirl.
I’m sort of ashamed to admit it was just what I needed.
Lily’s Garden is a stupid puzzle game but it’s more than just a stupid puzzle game. It’s a game with a plot and the opportunity for some mild creativity, too. This woman, the aforementioned Lily, inherits a house and a huge garden from her beloved great aunt and since her life, too, was apparently the Fyre Festival, moves there and sets about restoring it all. You accomplish this task by solving some rather diabolical puzzles, and as a reward, you get to hear the next chapter in Lily’s story (she immediately gets a hunky love interest and a new best friend and now a second best friend has showed up too, yay) and you get to have some say in how the garden is fixed up. AND the best part is, you don’t have to watch ads. You can buy powerups to help solve the puzzles, but you don’t have to. It wasn’t like PVZ 2 where you HAD TO have the powerups to get through the most basic levels and HAD TO watch oodles of ads to get them. Lily’s Garden seemed to me like a much better model overall, and I was having a little bit of fun with it.
All good, right? Well, not so fast.
They had a weeklong challenge running alongside the main storyline where this random Japanese guy shows up and tells his life story and if you solve a different set of puzzles, you get other options for your garden layout. Some of the original garden options were not particularly awesome and the Japanese ones were much better, so I was really loving having the new choices. But in addition to free stuff you played for, they had silver level options and gold level options, and to get all the selections you had to pay money to unlock the stuff.
And then if you bought both the silver level options and the gold level options, Lily got a cat. It was calico.
Ok, so I bought both the silver and the gold level options. I was fine with shelling out the money because my thinking was, game creators have to make money somehow, amirite? Here the fine people of Tactile Games have given me this nice experience I’m really enjoying, that felt like a little beacon of joy in my otherwise dismal existence, better garden options, plus I get a cat. A CALICO CAT. What’s not to like? I assume that’s why other people pay money for freemium games too – they just enjoy the game enough so it’s worth it to them. It was worth it to me to have more variety in my pretend garden and a cute imaginary kitty to boot.
But of course, as you probably deduced, there was a catch. The catch was that you didn’t actually unlock the stuff. You unlocked the levels to get the stuff. You still had to play all the levels. And the challenge lasted only a week. In order to unlock the stuff THAT I PAID FOR you had to play through Day 14 of the regular game AND 100 levels of the Japanese storyline (and they were very hard, harder than the standard puzzles by far). I made it to Day 12 and Level 80 before the challenge ended. That meant that practically all the gold level options THAT I PAID FOR stayed locked and that was it. Apparently I don’t get any of them.
I basically paid 9.99 for an effing computer cat that BTW Lily doesn’t even interact with. She talks constantly to this ridiculous squirrel in the worst subplot ever, she talks with the neighbor’s dog, she even talks to bees, but she doesn’t interact at all with my ten dollar cat, even though it is calico.
Did I mention the Fyre Festival? Because it was totally the Fyre Festival.
At no point in time was this mentioned anywhere when I purchased the gold level. It simply said that the stuff would be unlocked, and silly me, I thought unlocked meant unlocked, as in, not locked any more, NOT that you have to pay the money AND play through a huge number of levels in a really short time, since I didn’t even buy the options till the challenge was practically over anyway, having spent the better part of a week debating the rationality of spending money on a free video game. There was no warning before purchasing that I would need to be on a certain level in the game to finish up the storyline, because if there had been I’ve done the math and realized I’d never make it in time. It was completely bait and switch; what they said I’d get was totally different than what I actually got. I feel cheated, manipulated, and yes, even lied to by the creators of this stupid piece of fluff that was bringing a tiny little bit of happiness to me in a pretty bleak time.
9.99 is sadly the amount of money I have free to spend on myself in an entire month and I was not only willing, but happy to spend it on a sweet little video game that then proceeded to turn around and screw me like the imbecile I obviously am. So thanks for that, Tactile Games. Thanks for yet another reminder that literally everyone in this world is out to use me in whatever way they possibly can if I ever open myself up to it even for a moment.
It was kind of a kick in the nads, just saying.
I do still play the game. After that kind of investment, how could I not? But the makers of Lily’s Garden are not going to get any more of my money, which I might have been willing to cough up for, IDK, some person who showed up with an awesome array of cactuses and maybe a pet iguana. And I find myself very reluctant to give any other game company my money, either. Even if it’s the funnest game ever, it’s not worth it to pay money for imaginary joy if corporate greed steals that joy right out from under you.