On walkabout in life and technology

With In-App Coins, We're All Losers

There are a lot of games on the iPhone App Store that offer in-app purchases of game currency in order to enable players to either speed up the game, or to buy their way to higher levels, without adding additional content. Many of these games are offered free (the freemium model), but make it difficult to play unless you buy these in-app coins.

If you do this, you are a loser.

If you do this, I too become a loser.

And I don’t like being a loser!

If you buy these coins, you are converting real money into fake money. Oh, the game developer gets a nice fat profit. But what do you get? You start with a worse game, because it is designed to trick you into spending money, not designed to give you enjoyment. You have to deal with all the nag screens that encourage you to buy coins. You have to put up with artificial game delays and limitations to get you to buy coins. The game frustrates you until you spend real cash, then frustrates you some more to make you spend even more. Where’s the fun in that?

And when you do pay for these coins, and the game gets easier and your score gets higher, then what? Where is your sense of achievement? You sense of mastery and skill? There is none. Just an empty feeling and an empty wallet. But the game does not relent, the game needs you to buy more coins to keep going. The taste, the initial payment, the addiction, the repeat, it’s how drug dealers work.

So how do I become a loser too? Well, if you use your wallet and I use my skill, you get higher on the leaderboard. You buy your position, I earn mine. But since no-one knows how you got so high, I look like I am a loser because with all my skill, I am still way below you on the leaderboard. Mano-a-mano, I will smoke you in the game; dollar-a-dolaro, you race ahead. In the end, leaderboard achievement means nothing.

I also lose because the huge profitability of these games means more and more of them on the iPhone App Store, more crappy games, more nag screens, more skewed leaderboards, and less fun for for the rest of us.

This has to stop. I shall take the first step. From now on:

  • I have never and will never buy an in-app purchase of game currency to get ahead. I will only use in-app purchases for additional content.
  • I will never download a game again that has in-app currency purchases.
  • I will rate each and every game I have that does this a 1 star and tell people never to play it or buy games from the maker of that game again.

I’d appreciate it if you would help out and do the same.

Some great games that have been ruined by this:

  • Flight Control was a great game, whomever landed most planes was the best. Flight Control Rocket is ruined because whomever spends more is best.
  • Infinity Blade was brilliant, the more monsters you beat with skill, the better you were. Then they added in-app coins, now the more you spend, the higher your rank.
  • Words with Friends was a great Scrabble game, until they added the ability for your opponent to buy their way into better words.
  • Real Racing was brilliant, whomever won most races was the best. Real Racing 2, you can just buy a faster, better performing car.

Games that do it right:

  • Carcasonne adds more tiles and game variations with in-app purchase. Great.
  • FieldRunners used to offer more levels with in-app. They did so well, the new levels are now included in the game.