How free-to-play manipulates you into having-to-pay... and pay... and pay...

How free-to-play manipulates you into have-to-pay

A lot has been written about the true cost of free-to-play games - we even devoted a day of Talk Mobile to it a few weeks ago - but how does it actually work? We know the less-than-scrupulous developers target our impatience and our ego, but what are the exact mechanics involved? Ramin Shokrizade takes a look at the most common coercive monetization techniques in a guest post for Gamasutra:

A coercive monetization model depends on the ability to "trick" a person into making a purchase with incomplete information, or by hiding that information such that while it is technically available, the brain of the consumer does not access that information. Hiding a purchase can be as simple as disguising the relationship between the action and the cost

Shokrizade covers the use of premium currencies, like gems or points, the transformation of skill games to money games, the threat of reward removal, progress gates, soft and hard boosts, ante games, and more.

The level of manipulation is chilling, and anger-inducing, but this is what we get when a) we're too cheap to pay fair up-front prices for high quality games, b) alternate monetization methods are abused, and c) platform owners abdicate responsibility for a or b.

More: Gamasutra

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

How free-to-play manipulates you into having-to-pay... and pay... and pay...


Freemium games are the BANE of mobile gaming. Just take a look at the latest update for real racing 3. A game that I thought was well balanced for a Freemium just turned into the typical 'money grabbing' garbage you get from Freemium games.

I blame apple for introducing this Freemium BS with the introduction of IAP. Now just about evey developer is jumping onto the Freemium bandwagon.

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I like free-to-play games. I don't have a lot of disposable income, so these games allow me to play for free, and then if I like them enough to wanna get more into them, then I have that option. Better then spending $5-$10 for a mobile game then finding out u hate it, or can't stand the controls.

I don't understand y people hate on something they get for nothing. If u don't like it, don't play it. If u like it, and wanna support it, then u have that option. Seems like a win-win for customers and businesses. The developers are the ones who have the most to lose, cause if no one ends up supporting the "free" game, then they're probably out of a job!

Ok you're right to a certain point. But when devs snoop to dirty tactics by forcing you to cough up Dough to enjoy the game, it goes too far.

Yes, there are some Freemium games that are free to play and have fair prices for IAP like dead trigger for example. But then there's games that ask you to fork out $99 for some premium currency that only enables you to do so much. That's when Freemium games cross the line.

And before Freemium games didn't exist, devs had no problem in making money through the ads/lite version and charging a one time premium price for an app or game. It's apple that has enabled devs to abuse the Freemium model. This is not how games used to be on the App Store. I miss those days.

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Agreeing with damenace here. The freemium model isn't that different to the demo or ad-supported models - just like those models the dev. has to balance how much the player gets for free with how much to charge for those who want to pay, and for what.

Naturally there is plenty of scope with freemium for players to spend much more than they might otherwise have spent, in the pursuit of in-game currency with its accompanying rewards. But you know what they say about a fool and his money...

Freemium will eventually become the new "amusement arcade" model where you buy virtual quarters (or 50p pieces here in the uk) to pay to play the latest games.