7 Ways Modern Games Have Turned Into Scams
In-app purchases allow developers to reverse the polarity of the Mario series: As we run through a game, it's constantly collecting coins from us. Which is especially ridiculous when you realize that the greatest weapon in gaming history was available for free on the first level.
Super Monster Bros. is Mario remade with Pokemon sprites -- it has all the character variety of the former and the authentic platforming feel of the latter. It's the ultimate recipe for harvesting child money with an army of soulless clones. And we only wish they'd stopped at that level of evil.
Even the developer's cells hit copy+paste instead of undergoing mitosis.
Every second tap on the screen brings up a purchase confirmation for items, usually for a hundred dollars. But installing the game on your iPad required your password, which by default remains active for a while, and by the age of five, every player is trained to click "YEAH SURE WHATEVER" on any alerts that pop up at the start of a new game. This isn't a game; this is a Trojan Horse using the existence of children as a weakness in your credit card.
The existence of children can also result from a weakness in Trojans.
It wasn't even an attempt to exploit a parent's love. It weaponized a parent's wish for a child to be quiet for just a moment, and hoped that they'd be too busy to check their credit card statements. This app was designed specifically to harvest money from overloaded, newly-bankrupted parents, and leave them screaming at their own children. It's the most evil software outside of the guidance program which steers nuclear warheads through hollowed out volcano craters. On the upside, it's possibly the most educational software ever written.
Paying for Healing
The Dungeon Hunter series isn't just a tragedy -- it's a mobile museum exhibit on the greedy destruction of a game franchise. The first game was a great idea, the second improved on the first, the third razed everything to sell shovelfuls of the ashes, and the fourth started digging through the ruins to extract treasure from the corpses. You're only meant to do that when you're playing a game, not when you are one.
Notice that the lower right potion is yellow, because it is literally taking the piss
In Dungeon Hunter 4, your options are "FIGHT," "ITEM," and "CREDIT CARD," because you have to buy healing potions. Note that we didn't say "better" healing potions. You start with three each day, and cash money is the only way to get more. Never mind enchanted armor and game-breaking weapons, we're now expected to pay for the most basic of power-ups. Expecting people to pay for medical care? Gameloft's importing the absolute worst things about the real world into fantasy.
EA's Rating Scam
Our first line of defense against bullshit like this is online reviews. EA knows this, and decided to destroy the rating system instead of making a good game. The new Dungeon Keeper asks you to review it. If you give it five stars, then the rating goes through. Give it anything else and you're routed to a feedback form. And your review doesn't go through. And an EA executive really thought players were stupid enough to be fooled by that.
"We put an actual demon on the page, in case our evil wasn't clear enough."
As gamers, working out the scores that result from pushing buttons is our only skill, and they still thought they could screw us over. Especially since the only authentic review of the new Dungeon Keeper would be grabbing it by the throat and screaming "HOW DARE YOU TAKE THAT GREAT GAME'S NAME?", and then it taking 24 hours for that action to complete unless you want to pay real money.
Mobile gaming unleashed a plague of clickfarming bullshit when it should have heralded a golden age. Portable technology has passed through the exact same levels of power as our old consoles -- a hardware resonance should have opened a portal of nostalgic joy. There are countless retro games aching for another lease on life. Cheap downloads should see them arisen renewed to share joy with us again. Instead they're being resurrected as zombies -- shambling wrecks wracked with hunger for our wallets.
This screen literally says "go to hell" while demanding 60 dollars.
Classics like Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper have been rewritten as annoyance-a-thons. Two decades of improving technology have made the games actively worse than they were when first released. In the old days, they only slowed down if you tried to run two programs -- now they do it because they've been programmed to. In an awful irony, putting less than a megabyte of data on a bulky plastic cartridge was a less stupidly expensive waste of technology.
Big developers aren't just devolving into Supercell-grade garbage; they're desecrating their own icons in an attempt to extract a bit more money. But if you try to sell an emulation of the old games, they'll still sue you to oblivion. Luckily, no one is charging money for free and easily-found emulations of all those classic games. Because it sure would be terrible if everyone downloaded emulators and played those instead until the current business model collapsed.
Breaking Pieces Off the Game to Sell
"Zero Day Downloadable Content" is how game developers add their own tax to their retail price. The game carves itself into pieces, which you have to buy and feed back to it to get it up to size. It's an awful autocannibalistic menu advertised as an extra feature. And every time the game offers "Hail, great hero of Ass'kickeroth, wouldst thou like to buy the next level for seven American dollars?", it ruins the immersion like a grenade in a sensory deprivation tank. But while games used to extract non-essential parts, some are now hacking off their own heads and trying to sell them to you. But looking stupider and clumsier in the process.
Then again, "looking stupid" seems to be this guy's entire deal.
Asura's Wrath was a game about gods punching each other, and it cut off its own ending until customers agreed to its demands. That's only justified if you've been telling free stories for one thousand nights already. I'm not saying that the story they sold is such bullshit that you'd be insulted even if they gave it to you for free, but it features a main character being tough and having amnesia. And it's a beat 'em up, a genre in which most plots read like one of the concussed losers vented their frustrations by punching a keyboard.
It ends with a blatant continue point which fans thought promised a sequel, but which was really an ad for downloadable content. SPOILER: The main character fights the final big boss and wins by punching him in the face.
"I'm as stunned as you are. And as this Primordial God who predates the universe apparently was."
Even worse was Demon's Score, which pretended to be a full game. The only paid extras were some costumes, which is normally a great way to extract cash from obsessives without damaging the rest of the game. I love players with paid outfits. They're funding the developers while gift-wrapping their own asses for me to kick. But Demon's Score is a music/rhythm game, and each costume unlocks a new musical theme. The base game ships with only one. So if you want to beat the game without buying the extras, you have to play the same musical level over and over again. The game turns itself into audio water torture, with the insulting assumption that you have nothing better to do than keep putting up with this bullshit.
Undoing Your Money
They're not just breaking their games to sell you the pieces; you're only renting that wreckage. Gaming extras are worse purchases than magic beans, and only slightly less imaginary. EA casually informed players of SimCity Social, The Sims Social, and Pet Society that they'd be shutting those worlds down. "What's that, players? You'd spent thousand of real dollars? We can't hear you. Our ears are blocked by thousands of real dollars." No apology, no offline mode, not even a receipt reading "ONE SCREWING PAID IN FULL." The closest they came to acknowledging it was recommending that players move on to their PopCap games. That's what EA thinks of the players: "We have finished screwing you with this product. Proceed in an orderly manner so that we can screw you on the next product."
These always-online games create artificial economies, but depend on real servers, which need to make money. So the instant people stop buying things, everything they already bought disappears. That's a fable economists tell their children to scare them at night. Or maybe so that they don't feel bad about ripping suckers off.
They tried the same thing with Rock Band.
I didn't even buy the game, and this message makes me want to punch them.
That wasn't telling players that they couldn't play online any more, or that they couldn't buy new songs any more. That was telling them, "This thing you thought you bought on the device you think you own? Nope and nope." But there's a slight social difference between Rock Band and people who pretend to have pets on Facebook, because the backlash forced EA to leave it online. They didn't even have the guts to apologize, claiming that the message officially delivered to every player in a way which absolutely fits with their past behavior was a mysterious accident.
Turning Games Into Chores
The defense of the indoctrinated (criticize any game online and you'll find that even the worst title has cultish devotees) is to say, "Just don't buy the in-app purchases." I presume they also say "just don't breathe" when someone farts. But it's not a matter of choice when the atmosphere is so poisoned that solid chunks of shit are congealing out of the air to splatter all over our favorite hobby. If someone leaves a burning bag of crap outside my door, I don't think it's okay because it was free. And uninstalling Dungeon Keeper 4 is even more annoying than disposing of the dogshit, because I didn't go into that paper bag expecting to find free candy.
"It's free to play, kids! Take it out once every eight hours to level up!"
In-app purchases change the core mechanic of a game, and we've seen the tragic results. Instead of aiming to make something that's fun to play, games like Angry Birds GO are engineered to balance on the very cusp of the phone-flinging frustration curve, annoying you so much you want to spend money but not quite enough to stop playing. Their perfect customer isn't an entertained player, it's an addict justifying their own empty wallet in online forums.
We understand that the franchises we love only like us for our money, but they're mercenary in the same way the A-Team is mercenary: They need the cash, sure, but they're also a tremendous amount of fun and you don't mind paying for the entertainment. Modern games might be free to play, but they're expensive in wasted time and frustration. In the old days, developers had to make a good game and sell it to each player once. In-app purchases have freed them from both of those limitations.
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Luke McKinney writes about red shells and psychopaths, tumbles the most exciting videogame character this year, and responds to every single tweet.