The Cost of Mobile Gaming: From Reasonable to Ridiculous

As much as I like a bargain, I also firmly believe that if you are enjoying something, by that measure, it’s worth spending money on. Usually, that’s not a problem when it comes to PC gaming – most games have a purchase price at the very least. Sometimes, especially when it comes to MMO gaming, there are mandatory or optional subscription fees, and cash shops.

When you get a free to play PC game, again, there are usually ways to show your appreciation by throwing money at the game. When a developer can give a game away and find ways for the consumer to spend money that don’t compromise the core experience, I always want to give them my money.

Mobile games, though, are such a different creature.

While I wouldn’t consider myself an avid mobile gamer, it’d be safe to say that I do more than dabble. Since the only console in our home is a failing XBox 360, if I can’t be at my PC but I still want to play something, I have the choice of using my phone or my tablet.

What I’ve discovered is the majority of mobile games are free to download, and most frequently ad-supported, and I get it. This is the new demo – get your game out there, make your pennies per ad and people who like it will pay you, and you’ve really lost nothing on the folks who stop playing (or who elect to watch ads forever – who even ARE those people?).

Now, ad-supported is probably my least favorite revenue stream when I’m gaming. It’s intrusive, and usually loud if you’re playing something where you actually want sound, but I’ll put up with it long enough to let me decide I like the game. However, if once I’ve made that decision you don’t give me an easy and reasonably priced way to remove ads, you’ve probably just lost a customer.

I’ve lost count of how many mobile games I’ve enjoyed but stopped playing because there was no way to directly pay for the game, so it was going to always be ad-ridden.

On the flip side, I’ve gotten an immense value out of buying a single prism pack in I Love Hue. A one-time purchase removes all in-game advertising, and because prisms accrue daily, most causal players will never pay another dime to play the game as much as they like. As a result, I recommend the game whenever someone is looking for a new mobile puzzle game.

Alternatively, I don’t mind games with a one-time purchase price, although honestly, they’re not the ones I tend to gravitate to. I’m actually more likely to play free games that have micro-transactions because they tend to have more longevity, and I am fine with putting a game down when I run out of energy or lives or whatever mechanic it has to suck the money from your pockets.

However, I recently encountered what I think might be the absolutely most egregious pricing for a mobile game yet. The game in question is called Onnect, and it’s a pretty simple tile matching game. After playing around with it for a bit, I decided I liked it enough that I wanted to get rid of ads, and I was greeted with this:

Yep, you’re reading that right. A recurring subscription of almost $10 a month for a phone game. I can’t imagine that’s working out too well for them. This is a game that I gladly would have paid a one-time fee of around $5 to keep around, but a subscription for one single player game boggles my mind.

How do you feel about all the different ways to can pay to play on the go?

Quick Look – Another Eden: The Cat Beyond Time and Space (#MitsudaMarch)

When it comes to mobile gaming, I tend to gravitate towards very casual games, which usually leads to having half a dozen different match three or hidden object games to choose from.

However, for #MitsudaMarch, I downloaded something with a little more meat on its bones, and I’m really loving Another Eden so far. Sure, it’s pretty far outside what I normally play on any platform, and I am 100% bumbling through it.

I can’t tell you for certain how much time I’ve played it overall (I did poke at it when I first downloaded it last month, and I started playing it fairly regularly a couple of days early), but my iPhone’s Screen Time setting tells me I’ve already put in almost six hours this week.

I think what’s surprised me the most so far is how meaty the game feels. Just about everything you do earns you Chrono Stones, which can be spent in the Gallery of Dreams to unlock more characters for your party. A full party (including backline) is only six characters deep, so it doesn’t take that long to get a full party together as a free player.

The core game play is full of random encounters with simultaneous turn-based combat. It’s necessary to pre-select your party, and when you run into an enemy (or more often, a group of enemies), you can choose what each front-line party member does before activating your turn. It’s not a combat style I’ve overly familiar with, but I think it works well for a mobile game.

Another Eden looks great, it sounds great, and once you get into the swing of things, it plays great.

As with any free-to-play game, there are microtransactions, and things that can only be bought with premium currency. So far, I don’t feel like I’m at any sort of disadvantage by not spending, but I assume at some point, the story will run out, and making a purchase will be necessary to continue. At this point, that’s really just an assumption, though – so far it seems that the only things that cost to unlock are additional characters. Based on the prices of Chrono Stones in the app, and the costs of character unlocks with free Chrono Stones, it looks like you can expect to spend anywhere from $2.40 to $5 to unlock a single premium character.

Overall, this is a nifty little package of fun, and I’m grateful to the folks at The Community Game Along for #MitsudaMarch, because I never would have discovered this little mobile gaming gem otherwise.

A (Micro) Transgression

I knew I was going to have issues with Low-Spend 2020, and just over a month in, I’ve made my first forbidden purchase.

I’ve been on a kick for mobile slot machine games lately – more so since I discovered that some evil geniuses have decided to add quests to the mindless game play loop.

Normally, this would be just another guilty pleasure, nothing worth even mentioning, because despite these types of apps being absolutely infested with microtransactions, I’m pretty good at resisting the lure of “free money” (which isn’t actually even money!)

But here’s the thing – I also fully believe that if you’re enjoying a free-to-play game, no matter how inane, it’s actually a good thing to throw a couple of dollars at the developers, just as long as you never go over what you would have paid for the game if you had bought it outright.

Last night, I got home late, I was tired, and was unwinding with a slot-machine focused quest or two, and one of those amazing deals popped up. And I thought, I’ve been playing this game every day for over three weeks now, I should toss a couple of dollars at it.

And without any more thought than that, I did.

Obviously, I’m not going to waste a lot of time lamenting that I failed in my low-spend goals over a measly $2.11. I’m still in it for the year, but I wanted to make a short post in the interest of full-disclosure.

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.