The South Park episode, Freemium Isn’t Free, totally explains how freemium games get consumers hooked. It may be satire but the writers completely understand how the evil scheme works; you take a mediocre concept, slap on repetitive gameplay and tons of wait times to impede a player’s progress, offer a PAID ALTERNATIVE to remove the waiting and then suddenly, the game is FUN and worthwhile because you’re playing at a regular, decent rate AND you’ve invested money into it. 😛
Most, if not all, freemium games that aren’t Candy Crush Saga* clones revolve around some sort of collecting mechanic which becomes the main drive for players to revisit the game multiple times a day. The developers lock in loyalty by allowing users to fly through the first few levels, compliment them profusely, and pamper them with whatever currency the game uses. They may even hand out some rare items or premium currency to give players the impression that they’re oh-so-generous and appreciative of them. Bottom line is, they’ll try their best to make you feel like a king or queen and that you’re in control. Sadly, that’s not the case at all. Freemium games are made to accommodate the developer, not the player. Their structure involves excessive wait times and giving free players — that is, those that don’t spend any money — the bare minimums to progress. Everything that’s seemingly useful or is simply better in stats or looks require real money to purchase. An example of this are the gacha where rare collectibles are found. The success rate of receiving the rarest items is usually below a laughable 5% meaning players will get treated to regular or kind-of-rare prizes most of the time. To make matters worse, the chances of duplicates popping out of a draw is typically high.
(* In Candy Crush Saga’s case, it’s the gameplay, I guess, because everyone playing has this determination to succeed at every stage. The idiotically long wait times for failing a stage gets the paying addiction going.)
Many freemium titles also feature limited time events that last a few days to a week or so. During these events, you can obtain rare items and other goodies that will probably never be featured again. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the conditions to get these sought-after valuables are difficult to meet within the time span set for the event without spending any money. In the case where it’s possible for a non-paying player to succeed, it’s probably because he or she saved up on premium currency provided as gifts by the developer. (Yes, I admit that the reasons are dependent on the game because not every company is kind enough to give out premium currency. *cough* GCREST and UNITED Fun, Inc. *cough*)
I’m not writing about these kinds of games through research but experience. If you go through the freemium tag in this blog, you’ll see that I’ve tried out quite a few titles and may even get the sense that I’m still playing a couple of them. (I am.) But the main reason I chose this topic is to talk about my experience with being addicted to the app known as CocoPPa Play.
CocoPPa Play, which is available on the iTunes/App Store and the Play Store, is a cute characters, cute fashion lover’s nightmare. It doesn’t deviate from the freemium model I detailed above AT ALL but what has me caught in its web is the fact that I want so many of the items! It’s pretty much a virtual way of playing with dolls; I just get a kick out of being able to dress up cute little virtual models in cute outfits, hairdos, and even customize their facial expressions. In fact, those are CocoPPa Play’s main selling points and the developer, GCREST, ensures that they’ll milk players of their life savings by slapping premium price tags on a good selection of them.
Facial expressions, most hairstyles, some poses, stages, decorations, and wallpapers are premium, event-only, or gacha-only. In both cases, a heavy investment is necessary because you need to be within the top 10 or so to get pretty much everything, and the gachas only have a 1% success rate.
The cheapest items start at ~$0.36 US and the most expensive ones are ~$2.40 US. Gacha draws are typically ~$2.40 US but there’s usually a gimmick where the first draw is 50% off. Judging by these supposedly piddly prices, one may not think CocoPPa Play is expensive but when they offer MANY things for $2.40 US, the wallet starts screaming.
I went in full knowing that everything adds up. My credit card bill for January is heftier than usual because I justified purchases by thinking things like, “Hmm. Let’s see how much of an advantage I’ll have if I played gacha to get the bonus for this event.” or “Gosh, I REALLY want that!”. If I remember correctly, that “advantage” required playing the gacha 10 or 15 times. That’s another thing about the game — playing 5, 10, or 15 times in certain gacha may land you exclusive items or bonuses that can’t be gained otherwise. GCREST knows how to lure their prey!
Now, let’s get back to my problem — I’ve isolated the origin of it to the following:
- It’s plain old desire at work — Offerings that can be obtained through regular playthrough with in-game currency or by levelling up are boring and not unique. I honestly got tired of recycling the same stages and decorations and literally everything I actually wanted were premium items. 😛 Basically, I wanted a bigger selection that set me apart from the crowd.
- I’m affected by paid players’ shows. Their avatars and stages are so beautiful! You could say that I’m jealous and want to be like them. It’s kind of like how kids see a toy a friend has and they want it too.
- Lack of self-control. This should be obvious, I guess. Tidbit: there are a few freemium games that I’ve played for over a year and NEVER spent any money on them. They’re also ones that are a) linked to my Japanese iTunes account, and b) I pretty much only log in for daily bonuses and therefore don’t technically even play them. :E It makes a difference that apps are downloaded from the JP account because I have no credit card attached to it. Getting CocoPPa Play through it and transferring my current account over will probably not curb my spending because I can simply buy a Japanese iTunes prepaid card and load credit in.
What can be done to stop the draining of my bank account? Easiest solution is to delete the app and never look back but after investing so much in the game, it’s difficult to do that. (This is another way developers lock players in!) The other solution is just learn to control myself and appreciate what I already have or what the game offers to non-premium players. I’ve held up pretty well in Tiny Farm like that. I did it by ignoring the never-ending breeding and upgrading quests. I even ignored some events altogether because the reward animals weren’t to my liking. Being too lazy to work on the aesthetics on my maps helped as well. XD Basically, I thought up ways to enjoy the game and not worry about spending. That’s not to say that I didn’t spend any money though; I just didn’t spend as much on it in the 2+ years as I did with CocoPPa Play in the span of a month.
At any rate, I’m going to have to do my best from now on to play the game without any money. If I can’t then I should drop it and just think of all the money I gave to GCREST as a donation to keep the game running for other players that enjoy it.