Okay, I’ll admit it. I, like many other smart phone users, was once addicted to playing games on my little hunk of tech. Specifically, my mobile gaming addiction was one I’m sure you would be familiar with – yes, that’s right – the Candy Crush Saga.
Originally launched as a Facebook game, the iOS and Android editions of this excessively popular puzzle game launched in late 2012. Perhaps it’s popularity – which involves over 2 million active daily users in Australia alone, and a daily revenue of over $780,000 – is down to one particular quality of the game. It happens to be ‘free’.
You don’t have to pay any money to go to the App Store and download the Candy Crush Saga, and once it’s on your phone, you have the freedom to play it. A game like the Candy Crush Saga is simple, easy to pick up and easy to understand. I dare say, t really is the perfect game to have in your pocket. In fact, it’s so simple that virtually anyone could play it.
“So if everyone is getting it for free, how can it make so much money? Simple. It’s Freemium.”
Put plainly, ‘Freemium’ effectively translates to, like most things in life, ‘free, but not free’. The ‘Freemium’ model has risen drastically since the rise of smartphones in the past decade and is quickly becoming the larger future of gaming. While they are an ingeniously profitable endeavour by many small development teams, there are some ethical issues that arise when looking at ‘Freemium’ games.
Games like the Candy Crush Saga or similar mobile ‘Freemium’ titles such as Clash of Clans and Game of War: Fire Age are designed to be accessible and draw mass audiences. In fact, Kate Upton was featured in a massive transmedia marketing campaign for Game of War: Fire Age, which saw the games’ popularity skyrocket from the model and actresses appearance. They appeal to the casual gamer, who desires something simple to take out on their train ride or during a boring lecture. As soon as the game starts, players are immediately tempted by an array of money making tools.
If you get stuck in the Candy Crush Saga, you’re offered extra turns for a modest fee. It’s a tempting push to a gamer playing a highly addictive game. Oh, and the game also locks you out of playing after a certain amount of time, however, that extra dollar or two can get you to skip the waiting, and play immediately. Your card details are likely saved to your account, perhaps like this man who racked up $380 on his sister’s credit card. The difficulty increases as you progress through the game. You’ve probably failed again and again, and thought an extra turn or two could have easily gotten you through. That extra release of dopamine is literally a finger tap away. So, why not?
This is why free to download games ironically end up becoming more profitable than paid mobile titles. The game is designed to tempt you to shed a little bit of cash from your bank account as soon as it is on your device, and once it finds itself on your phone, its addictive nature will likely keep it there for a while. A good explanation of the science behind ‘Freemium’ can be viewed below:
“That’s right, you basically end up paying real money, for fake money.”
This isn’t the only tactic for ‘Freemium’ titles to get you paying. Many mobile games now include in-game currencies that can be spent to allow players to access premium content. That’s right, you basically end up paying real money, for fake money. When it’s put that way, you may wonder who would ever make a transaction of this sort. However, the entire transaction occurs without having to leave the game, usually with a single tap of the screen. This simplicity and ease prevents gamers from analysing the true value and necessity of their purchase. This is complemented by the nature of the paid content, which tends to make the game more enjoyable, more exciting, sometimes easier and contributing more lasting value. Effectively, ‘Freemium’ gaming has created a culture of ‘Pay-To-Play,’ and, more commonly, ‘Pay-To-Win’.
Many gamers, such as myself, become frustrated with this concept, as it removes the traditional aspect of skill from games. The player’s success in the game becomes more aligned with how much money they are willing to spend. Furthermore, ‘Freemium’ titles often become much lighter and shallower games that trap gamers with carefully timed payment prompts. They capture players at their most urgent and compulsive times to profit off their desire to play, ultimately distracting them from the experience of the game itself.
The immensely profitable nature of ‘Freemium’ games means they are likely going to stick around. In fact, many elements of ‘Freemium’ gaming have leaked their way into more traditional games, an issue I will talk about later. Ultimately, despite ‘Freemium’ gaming having such a vast financial advantage, it’s important to note the potential issues they hold. When you download a free app, just remember that this game, like any other game or product, is made with the purpose to make money.