Mobile Games

How Free is Freemium?

Playing Gun Bros this weekend I think I finally "get" the dual-income Freemium business model.  

I was always puzzled about why you need to design two different kinds of money in a Freemium game (at least, this type of Freemium game.)  Why not just one?  But now I get it -- Money A is is for the cheapos out there (like me) who just want to earn money by grinding, Money B is for people who give a little back to the developers -- who are willing to click on ads, invite Friends, or pay out real money -- in exchange for extra special buffs or upgrades.  (Of course you can buy extra Money A too if you want.)

I have to say, to my surprise I'm even finding Gun Bros fun.  It's a silly game, the art is cute, the game is entertaining, and the plentiful upgrades are pretty satisfying.  Even the economy -- while it seemed complicated at first -- is not overly annoying.  Haven't actually paid any money yet, although I've definitely felt the temptation.  

We've been talking a lot at Vector Unit about whether it makes sense for us to try and design a game around this type of economy, rather than our usual "old fashioned" way of just making games that people pay for once and then

Freemium is tempting.  You get craptons of downloads, and from everything we've seen if you design the game right, you can make a lot more money than you can with a regular pay-to-play game.  Also it helps combat piracy (why pirate a free game?)

But man, I don't know.  I still have some problems with this whole model.

For one thing, it seems odd to call these games "casual" when in fact the currency management is as complicated as any mid-level console RPG.  It seriously took me a while to figure out Gun Bros, and it's not even complicated compared to Farmville or something.

But also, I think there's something kind of messed up about a game that allows -- even encourages -- players to spend this much money.  In Gun Bros, the cheapest coin package you can buy is $2.99 -- which is probably about how much the game would cost if it were a P2P game.  The biggest package of in-game booster currency you can buy costs $199.  TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS.  For a simple dual stick shooter! 

I wonder if there will ever be some kind of backlash against games like this and Farmville. From a social-good standpoint, it seems like there's a very fine line between online gambling addiction and Freemium gaming compulsion. 

And what about the gamers who support these "free" games, who complain about mobile games that you have to pay for?  Do they realize what they're giving up?  That the game mechanics are designed around increasing your frustration and impatience, rather than your entertainment and enjoyment? 

I'm not saying we're not going to try this out at some point.  Man, the numbers don't lie.  But I still feel like there's something to be said for paying $2, or $5, or -- gasp -- even $20 or more for a clean, well designed game experience that doesn't ask anything from me other than my pleasure.