What I Play When I Don’t Have Time for Games

A Little Chat About Mobile Games & Thoughts on Mobile Game Monetization

I don’t know who first came up with the idea that “mobile gaming isn’t actually gaming”, but I have never understood it.

I might be persuaded to argue that – generally speaking – mobile games are their own genre of gaming. Sure, there have been ports of fantastic games to all kinds of devices, but the type of game that usually comes to mind when someone mentions mobile gaming is the endorphin slot machine which entices you to sink a whole lot of time, money, or both into it just to keep up with other people playing.

Games like that – they suck you in, even though many of them aren’t terribly good when you take an objective look at them. I mean, I played Farmville during its Facebook heyday, and I got deeply into Mob Wars for awhile. I can’t tell you now what the allure was, I just know I played them (and many other games like them), and I played them regularly.

That said, I don’t think I’ve touched a Facebook game in … at least three or four years, probably longer. Mobile games have taken over that niche, bite size time-fillers when you’re on the go, letting you get a little gaming fix when you don’t have time to play a real game.

I’ve tried many over the years, and a select few have managed to hold their spot on my devices.

What I Play on My iPhone

Since I cheaped out on storage space the last time I upgraded my phone, and since I take WAY too many photos that I often forget to back up, I don’t bother keeping much in the way of games on my phone. Although I occasionally download something for a brief flirtation, there are two games I come back to over and over.

The first game that’s always installed is Two Dots – it seems very simple at first – draw a line between dots of the same color to clear them from the board. Complete a square or a rectangle to clear all dots of that color. Each level tasks you with clearing something, and as you play, more special pieces come into play, and it becomes a satisfying combination of strategy and RNG to proceed. It’s easy to understand and it’s free with in-app purchases (IAPs).

I have never spent any money on Two Dots. Usually, by the time I’m out of lives, I’ve had my fill, and multiple game modes (with multiple life pools) lets me wander over to whatever event is going on at any given time to play more if I wish to, and for me, there’s no satisfaction in buying extra moves with money in order to complete a level.

The second game, which I find myself going back to even more frequently, is I Love Hue and I find myself recommending it often. This is another game that’s free, but contains both ads and IAPs.

Normally, my fascination with ad-based games is short, but once you make any in-app purchase, ads are gone for good. I bought the cheapest “prism pack” for less than $5 over two years ago, and I have never come anywhere close to having to wait for my daily login bonus to continue playing. You spend 3 prisms to play a level, and you get 15 per day regardless of whether or not you ever open the app. I play at least every few days, sometimes multiple levels, and I still have enough prisms to play almost 500 levels back to back.

What I Play On My Kindle Fire Tablet

I change out my tablet games far more often than my phone games, but I have two I keep coming back to, and one that I am currently playing far too much of.

I started playing Codewords when it was free as part of Amazon Underground (which I sorely miss), and when it disappeared from my account – like many other games I picked up the same way – I dropped the $2.99 and just bought it. I was so pleased with it, I talked about it in my game-a-day blog. It’s cheaper than any puzzle book you’re going to find, it has over 1000 puzzles, and they’re replayable. No ads, no extra purchases, $3 well spent.

The Istrys is a supersized package of 3D tile matching games, and another series I discovered through Amazon Underground. Sadly, the single tileset versions of this app are no more, and it appears that all you can get is this greatest hits package. I never loved the music, but it’s easy enough to turn off, and the gameplay (especially the timed version) is something I really enjoy. However, I find myself playing it less and less as time goes on because it’s fully monetized via ads. Even worse, people have reported that when the app switched over to this new version, the versions they had previously paid for were no longer available, which is really not a good look. If the developers could see their way to offering a one-time payment to remove the ads (even if it were on a tileset-by-tileset basis), I’d pony up in a heartbeat, but until then, I’ll play it from time to time, but never more than a game or two in a row.

Lastly, there’s the current time sink extraordinaire, Merge Dragons. A match (or in this case, merge) three collectathon with premium currency and IAPs that I’m a little embarrassed to say I dropped $10 on when I started playing. I’ve beaten all levels currently in game, and I find myself opening it up, cleaning up my camp, and then closing it between huge (and admittedly, mostly rather dull) events that have been coming every weekend as of late. I wish I could tell you why I’m still playing, I think really, it’s something to do mindlessly while watching TV, and I really want it to be more fun than it is.

I’m not sure how it happened, but it feels like over the past few years, mobile games have become a dirty secret. Gamers elect not to connect to their Facebook or Twitter profiles, instead, we play on the go and don’t talk about it. Personally, I’ve never been overly concerned with my gamer cred anyway, but I really think that if some mobile developers moved away from the hamster wheel of IAPs, and offered demos or free ad-supported trials, mobile games would stop being something that people hid, and start being something we recommended to our friends.

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