Monday, August 5, 2013

It's never too soon to talk to your kids about microtransations.

When I started playing Candy Crush on facebook, I was an anomaly. If you play into the stereotypes, it's a cutesy girl's game that looks like you ate too much stuff at Sloan's and daintily regurgitated it into gel-filled ice cube trays. I tried it because it was a lot like Bejeweled Blitz in function, but it's not on a timer so I can use the regular mouse instead of having to play lefty with a stylus to keep up with my right-handed and touchscreen-playing friends. At first, I was the only guy amongst dozens of girls. I presume that this is a microcosm of the rest of the groups playing the game, although perhaps my age plays into this somewhat. Since I can only see scores of people on my friends list, I can only see how the demographic that I'm in changes, but there are now a reasonable number of guys playing the game now as compared to before. I did find it funny a couple of times at work talking to tradespeople where they were evasive about a game that they were playing on their smartphone but I was still able to guess when they were talking about Candy Crush. Part of the reason they even mentioned it was frustration over some of the levels, and since I don't hide my affection for games in conversation, certainly they can feel like I am a person to ask about a thing like that.

The biggest frustration that I have seen is that some of the levels appear to be rather difficult without buying extra moves, but I haven't bought any extra moves yet and don't plan to anytime soon. This would appear to be a great plan on King's part (King is the company that makes Candy Crush) since typically most people tend not to buy stuff in free games. The last statistic that I had heard (and quite a number of years ago, prior to the big surge of facebook games) was that typically less that 10% of the players were responsible for over 90% of the in-game purchases in a free-to-play game. With the space a little more cutthroat and competitive, I doubt we would have access to those figures now, but I now hear about more people buying extra lives and moves in Candy Crush that I used to hear about people buying premium features in free-to-play games before. Sure, there were a few reports of kids racking up wagonloads of Smurfberries a couple of years ago,  but we can't count the under-12 crowd as a real demographic for making informed purchases.

So, how are we supposed to feel as gamers about this sort of stuff? Let's look at Candy Crush and see how it stacks up to other games.

Arcade shooters, Gauntlet, Gauntlet II, Smash TV, fighting games, brawlers, and arcade sports games - $0.25 to play, $0.25 to continue, but buy the home version and never have to worry about quarters again. The arcade versions of Gauntlet  and Gauntlet II had 4-player cabinets and ever-decreasing health. Playing through with a group of friends could cost $20 without too much trouble, and was probably a lot more than that. I picked $20 as a reference since you can pick up the console version for PS3 or XBox for that much and it includes dozens of other Midway classics. The X-Men brawler had a 6-player cabinet with a double sized display and could suck down quarters even faster. I don't recall that there was ever a good home version of the X-Men brawler on consoles but apparently you can get it for your iPhone for $2.99 now. (5 friends not included.)

Current generation console action and fighting games - $20 to $60 to play (not counting the original console purchase), add-on characters, maps, and levels cost anywhere from free (extra Portal 2 Co-Op levels) to $5 (MvC3 Jill or Shuma Gorath, each - unless you preordered the premium version) to $9 (DmC add-on Vergil levels unless you pre-ordered the original game) to $20 (Street Fighter X Tekken 12-character pack, regardless of preorder status) to $30 (Borderlands Add-On Pack). I didn't even count costumes - the character costume packs don't affect gameplay, but they can be rather expensive. Separately, there are over $40 in costumes available for Street Fighter IV, although there's a pack on Steam for the PC version that's only $14.99 for all of them.

Candy Crush - Free to play, facebook. Free to play the first batch of levels, iPad version. Can't buy the whole game at all. Five extra moves, $1. (Fine, $0.99, whatever.) Extra lives if you don't want to wait 30 minutes for one to regenerate, $0.99. Three lollipop hammers, $1.99.

Honestly, this would be like if you could buy three potions or keys in Gauntlet for $0.50 - which no one at the time would have done. They would have just slogged away at the enemies like normal. So I am going to just take my time and chip away at the game bit by bit like I'm doing. Maybe I'll call it Candy Chisel now.


deer hunter game said...

but I think you missed a couple of items. Smurf's Village was the 2011 poster child for a kids game with IAP, and there was an enormous backlash

SuperMonkeyCube said...

Ah, yes. The mothersmurfing smurfberries. Thanks for that - I had forgotten it.