08 February, 2015

On the devastating damage of freemium

While researching for the post on customers’ reactions to Timeshock I was shocked (I know, I know, bad pun) when I found several one-star ratings in the french iTunes store. These ratings were, in almost all cases, due to the fact that the game was not totally free. Somebody was even admitting that the game’s realisation was superb but, since after 5 min or so you had to pay if you wished to continue playing, he ended up giving an abysmal rating.

This started me thinking on the change of attitude that followed the creation of the App Store(s). Not so many years ago we were paying upwards of 30 € for a pinball game. Have a look at the screen capture of the LittleWing store page

(by the way, one has to use the Wayback machine since LittleWing has ceased activities and the store is not active any more). Their last game, outside of the App Store, was Mad Daedalus (a great pinball) produced in 2010. Then the App Stores became a must (for iOS first, with the store created in 2008, and then the one for the Mac, created in 2011). LittleWing had to adapt to the super-low prices of the Stores. As of today Tristan, produced in 2011, is sold for 1.99 € and Crystal Caliburn II (2012) for 3.99. (The result of this price drop was catastrophic for LittleWing who could not pursue their activities, but I have already written about all this).

This tendency for prices to melt did not stop there. It gave birth to two monstrosities. The first is crapware. And by this I do not refer to apps with zero (or worse) quality but to apps which are pure scams. They are there just to grab your money, betting on the fact that you may not pursue the matter for just a few euros. I have had an experience of the sort with an app which was supposed to produce TeX documents. (It did not. I asked and got a refund). Even today there is an app in the french store supposed to produce LaTeX code and which does nothing. One wonders what the people at Apple’s app validation centre are doing. The second monstrosity is freemium. The fashion now is for apps to cost nothing and then make you pay through in-app purchases. When you read about top grossing apps you find “classics” like Candy Crush or Clash of Clans but also, most amazingly, Slots Machines (!). I found out that none of the top-grossing free apps were of my taste, the highest ranking one that I do like being Plants vs. Zombies 2 (which I like to play without in-app helps just for the challenge it presents). However I had a run-in with an app designed to siphon money: twodots.

It is a well built app with nice, simple, graphics and not uninteresting game-play. However as soon as the game progresses you get stuck and, if you make the mistake to use in-apps, you soon may find yourself spending substantial sums just to finish a single level. I deleted the game but I can understand that other people may be tempted by just one more small expenditure in order to finish the level at hand. 

However the absolutely perverse effect of free apps is that some people expect all of them to be free. The quality does not matter, just the price, something I have trouble understanding the logic thereof. It is because of this that we arrived at the one-star ratings for Timeshock. Instead of lauding the choice of the Barnstorm/Silverball people to provide a pinball you could try for free before purchasing, some shortsighted people decided that a fabulous game, that necessitated a year and a half of development, should be totally free. Frankly, I pity these people. They are condemned to play either crappy free games or in-app loaded ones and thus, provided they resist the temptation, get stuck at some early stage. In any case they will never experience the thrill of Timeshock. But, if they dare write the reviews they did, one thing is certain: they are not pinball fans.


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  2. Interesting read and some great food for thought you present here. Overall I feel the same as you do. In general I steer clear of in-apps and look for reviews and user experiences online to avoid crapware and clearly unfinished/unusable products. But I've had my duds as well. One learns along the way. I prefer paying some upfront and be done with it for a quality program. I can. I am lucky enough to have a job and earn some spending money.

    However, young people living with their parents, who don't earn an income yet but do have a mobile device, are more likely to play and download freemium games and tend to be disappointed when reality kicks in and money is needed to play on. I am guessing the most of those 1 star raters are in fact young people with no money of their own except for maybe an allowance.

    Furthermore, there was a time when paying to finish a game was very common. The arcades of old were filled with machines designed to take your money. Pinballs being one of them (balldrains left and right). Of course when you're good at playing you can last a long time with your coins. But practice takes a lot of time and cash first. Many videogames back then were ridiculously hard and to reach the end of the game it would take your coins at every 'continue'.

    Besides that, your arguments are perfectly valid. Freemium is a thorn in the industry and crapware should be eradicated.

  3. I think you meant to say 30 something's living in the parents basement think everything should be free. ;)