Free To Play

I’ve been playing a Free To Play game recently and thinking about a lot of the issues surrounding it. I’m playing Pokemon Picross, which I was excited about because I like Picross puzzles and thought the Pokemon theme looked interesting.

My main gripe is the pricing. The game is free, but you can spend money on an in-game currency that provides a variety of effects. The problem is that the pricing is very excessive compared to the other Picross games you can buy. The most recent one “Picross e6” sells for $6 and includes over 300 puzzles. By contrast, $6 gets you enough currency to unlock around 40-50 puzzles. That knowledge means that before I can even think about spending a few dollars on Pokemon Picross, I have to realize that I’ll get a much more complete and full experience for the same price. The free to play monetization means that they charge more for a lot less content.

My second gripe is an extension of the first. The mechanics of purchasing and spending becomes a tedious exercise of value. The most important thing you can do with the ingame currency is unlock new content, but the game also lets you spend it on less important upgrades and fleeting consumables. If you were to spend the currency on recharging power ups or filling up your energy bar, you’ll have gotten even less to show for the money you have spent. It’s feels like a store where some of the items are grossly overpriced, and the merchant hopes you won’t notice. These microtransactions makes it really easy to completely waste your money.

Now in Nintendo’s defense they are explicitly not trying to exploit anyone. There is a hard cap on how much money you can spend on microtransactions. After spending around $32 the shop will close and simply grant you as much of the in game currency as you want. In a world where free to play bases their entire business model on the ‘whales’ spending thousands of dollars a week, this feels incredibly refreshing. But it still feels like they are seeing what they can get out of people. Can they get away with charging $32 for an experience that they value at $6 if they don’t charge someone all at once? Maybe that’s the appropriate trade-off considering that patient players can eventually unlock all of the content by spending a few minutes each day for over a year. Overcharge some players in order to let others play for free.

What is my role in this? I can’t bring myself to spend money on the game, considering I’d much rather pay a one time price for a complete game. And I don’t buy one of the other games because I don’t really want Picross that badly. I’ve been doing the free daily challenges because they only take a few minutes out of my train ride. But… my 3DS is constantly advertising to other people that I’m playing Pokemon Picross, serving as a walking billboard for the game. At least I can take comfort knowing that I won’t lead anyone into spending thousands of dollars on a simple ‘game’.

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