Saturday, June 28, 2014

Waiting for ... Gaming

This is a post about something I find pretty annoying. About Free-to-Play games (Free-to-Pay games, as I call them) and their most annoying component: waiting.

You see, I really like to buy games and get the full game - to play, to keep. I hate several things about today’s DRMs, but that’s for another post. I like buying games and playing them as I see fit - when I want, where I want, as long as I want, as often as I want. There are games in my casual collection (like the second Dark Parables game, “The Exiled Prince”), which I have played completely four, five, or more times. What I like most about those games? They have a definite end.
I’ve never been one for stories of any kind that never really end. I’m not into soap operas for this reason. Therefore, I don’t really like all those online games, anyway. Not the MMORPGs (even though I like RPGs), not the online action games, and not the Free-to-Play games that have sprung up, either.

After I started playing on iPad, I also played several Free-to-Play games, since they were free and, well, it was new technology, what can I say? I stopped playing those games again soon, because they couldn’t hold my interest.
A little while ago, BFG started offering Free-to-Play games, too. The first ones were casino games and I never had any real interest in those. Gambling definitely isn’t my thing (I prefer spending money on games, books, and DVDs), so I just ignored them. Next were a couple of other games, mostly Hidden Object Games. One of them, “Midnight Castle,” became a favourite at the Challengers forum, though, and a few days ago, I downloaded it against my better judgement.

So, what is my problem with the game? Well, they’re playing the waiting game, very much like all Free-to-Play games do. Let me explain the basic idea behind Free-to-Play first, then I’ll also tell you about the waiting game.
Free-to-Play is the idea that you can play the basic version of a game for free. Yes, for free, for no money, without paying. Now, us grown-ups, we know there’s no such thing as a free lunch, much less a free game without a hook (at least a free game made by a professional developer and published by a professional portal). The hook with Free-to-Play is micro-transactions. Micro-transactions are small transactions within the game, done with real money. No in-game currency you can earn by doing stuff (that exists, too, in those games), but real money you pay for something to make the game easier or speed it up. You can play a Free-to-Play game completely for free - if you have a lot of patience. If you’re prepared to do a lot of grinding for your Free-to-Play RPGs. If you’re prepared to wait a lot. At first, those transactions seem to be pretty easy and not at all expensive. You pay a few dollars, sometimes only a couple of cents, and get something that will speed up building or make your character get more experience and so on.
However, let’s do a little calculation here. “Candy Crush” is a Facebook game where you can either bother your friends for more lives or buy a new life when you run out of them for 99 cents. The game belongs to the genre of the Match 3 games. Not a dying breed at all, there’s loads of them for all platforms, no matter whether it’s the computer or the mobile devices … I’m sure there’s even some around for consoles. If you’re not a member at BFG or Gamehouse, you can buy a full game there for $9.99 (for members, which get fined the price for one game every month for a coupon to use, it’s $6.99). A full game, one you can play without micro-transaction and as long and as often as you like. Those portals (and others I didn’t mention here) have loads of Match 3 games. Some include sweets, others let you match other stuff. And with buying 10 lives less, you’re almost there to buy one game without the micro-transaction hook. But people don’t do that, because they can a) bother their friends at FB until they get some stuff and b) always shell out a few cents for a new life, once all their friends unfriended them.
So, let’s get to the waiting game. If you play a Free-to-Play game for free, if you decide not to use micro-transactions, you have to wait a lot. Buildings in some games take hours of real time to be ready. Plants in some games take hours to grow. “Midnight Castle” has a cool-down time on the search scenes. You need to search each of those often, because they only yield one object on one go and you need a lot of those objects they give you. After playing a scene (knowing you will need more stuff from that one), you either have to wait for the scene to unlock again (can take 30 minutes or more) or you have to shell out on diamonds which unlock it again immediately. How you get diamonds? Well, either by luck in a search scene or for a quest - or for money, real money. Same goes for the in-game currency of gold coins. You earn some in the scenes, but you need a lot of them for crafting and unlocking new scenes and stuff like that. You either work hard for them or you shell out some real money. For me, who will not buy stuff for the game, that means a lot of waiting for the scenes to cool down, so I can get more stuff and earn more gold the hard way.

I’m not saying you should never play a Free-to-Play game, I just want you to remember there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Think about it.

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