5 Reasons I Lost $9,000 On An iPhone Game
If you've watched television recently, you've probably noticed that Kate Upton's tits really want you to play a smartphone game called Game Of War: Fire Age. That ad campaign cost approximately 40 million dollars, or about 5 million more than the entire development cost of Borderlands 2. They can afford their "it's like Game Of Thrones, but, somehow, even more sexual!" marketing because, as we write this, Game Of War is raking in more than a million dollars each day. Jason Croghan has spent several thousand dollars on it, and he told us all about how games like Fire Age sink their claws into you -- and don't let go.
They Ease You Into The Transactions
If you haven't played Game Of War (and I strongly suggest that you don't): It's a bit like Civilization. You build a city, research technology, train soldiers, and attack other players. I started playing because I was bored at work -- the same reason you started making clans clash or birds angry.
When you sign up, you're inserted into a kingdom populated by other newbies. New players will be added until it's full, and then the cycle begins anew. At first, it's harmless fun, and, yes, I realize I sound like a drug addict. Like many casual games, you have to wait a certain amount of time before a building is complete or certain technology is researched. The timers start low, so you can play for a few minutes every day and make decent progress.
At this stage, you can spend five bucks to wipe the floor with anyone who's still playing for free. You laugh off defeat because the stakes are low. You can easily catch up without spending a dime. But, soon, all of those new players you joined with aren't so new anymore. They're growing stronger, and, after a few months, the wait times to accomplish anything are so great that if you don't spend money to keep up with the fantasy Kardashians, you'll be overwhelmed. We're not talking five bucks anymore -- many players will have dropped a couple hundred at this point. Hey, those virtual troops weren't going to train themselves. Well, they were, but it was going to take forever.
You can't shrug off defeat anymore. Now, the only way to recover is to flash some cash. And you'll notice people in your kingdom doing exactly that, getting wiped out but coming right back a week later. If you try to do it the slow, steady, and free way, you'll get frustrated by the delays or just get wiped out again, before you can fight back.
You've gone from a game that was fun to play for free to a game that's no fun to play at all unless you spend to keep up. And you will spend because you've been putting in 30 minutes a day for half a year to reach this point. It's become an investment. Possibly the worst investment outside of real estate in the Pacific Northwest, but an investment nonetheless.
You Don't Get To Keep What You Buy
Every MMO needs an endgame -- something repetitive, but fun, that your paying customers can do indefinitely once they've mastered everything else. In World Of Warcraft, the game is reaching the maximum level, and the endgame is all about completing difficult raids to earn the best equipment and the worst skin complexion.
But, Game Of War has no endgame beyond attacking opponents. Every time you and your buddies team up and strike, you're wiping out hundreds, if not thousands, of your enemy's dollars. In a different context, that's a sci-fi dystopia we would need the crew of the Enterprise to rescue us from.
In most games, if you spend money, the benefits are permanent. Your Cloak Of Questionable Financial Management may have cost 40 bucks, but no one can ever take it away from you. But, here, you're spending money on troops and other expendables that can be lost in combat. I was casually browsing the map at work recently and came across a guy who must have spent at least 7,000 Euros. He wasn't around to defend himself, so we attacked. We wiped out about 2,500 Euros. Two-and-a-half grand, gone in five minutes.
It's like gambling, but with no possibility of winning. The best you can do is not lose. We destroy so much in a single attack that it would take months of gameplay to recover ... or 100 bucks. You're useless to your alliance until you rebuild, and what's money if it's keeping you from playing with your friends?
Almost everyone still in my kingdom has spent at least a few grand. By the time the money starts looking less like what you would only waste on fast food and more like what you should be putting into mutual funds, you've built alliances and formed grudges. The only thing more stupid than continuing to waste money is to have wasted all that previous money for nothing. Yes, I realize that's the sunk-cost fallacy. Did you realize shut up?
The Game's Confusing Menus Trick You Out Of Cash
If you read reviews of Game Of War, you'll inevitably see it described as complicated. But, it's not complicated in a way that has any logic or meaning behind it. No, this is a game that purposely bombards you with endless statistics, menus, and options to confound you.
If a game has a simple learning curve, you get bored fast. How many of you are still playing Angry Birds? But, mastering Game Of War is such a long, laborious process that by the time you've finally figured out the difference between Enemy Troops Debuffs and Overall Enemy Troop Debuffs, Tier 4 Trap Salvage Range and Trap Salvage Luck, March Speed, Gathering March Speed Bonus and Trade March Speed -- well, you've basically graduated college in this damn game. You can't stop now.
There are 167 statistics to improve. I counted. It doesn't need 167 different statistics -- no game on Earth does. But, each one could mean the difference between victory and defeat, so you have a financial incentive to improve them all. This is often done through research ... of which there are 237 different technologies, most of which have 10 tiers. For comparison, Civilization V, considered a masterpiece of the same genre, has ... 74. 74 versus over 2,000.
God help you if you want to complete research without spending money. It starts off fast -- 10 minutes, 40 minutes, 12 hours. But, it's not long before they take seven days, six weeks, six months. You either need to pay or leave your login information in your will, so future generations can carry on your valiant struggle.
I'm just scratching the surface with this explanation. I could go on, but if I wrote a better tutorial than the game provides, I would want them to pay me. It might as well be written in Esperanto for the help it offers. You're left to your own devices to figure out everything beyond the basics, because, if you're forced to learn on your own, you have to invest time (and you'll inevitably make mistakes that can be corrected with money).
A game such as Civilization V has lots of numbers, too, but the meaning of each one is clear. There are only as many as there need to be. But, Game of War is complicated for the sake of being complicated. It's like taking a test that purposely uses confusing language. They're not testing your knowledge; they're testing your tolerance for bullshit -- except, you can make the smell go away with money.
You Have To Pay NOT To Play
Every time you fire up Game Of War, it's like stepping into a casino, and that's not counting the fact that it actually contains a casino. The very first thing you see is a full-screen ad for a pack of items, and it only gets less subtle from there.
The main screen looks like The Shopping Channel on mescaline, with animated icons to remind you that great deals are available, but only if you act now. Ads for special events, which you generally need to spend money on to succeed, also bombard you with all the nuance of a shotgun to the face.
Remember when I said you'd start by dropping five bucks just for a lark, as I believe the kids say these days? Well, you can do that ... once. Then, you have to spend $16.99, then $49.99, and, finally, you're left with no choice but to drop $99.99 anytime your pretend soldiers need a pretend pick-me-up. But, you were probably only going to spend that 100 bucks on beer or the heating bill.
Freemium games have a golden rule where players who pay get a small advantage but aren't allowed to flat-out win. Not so in Game Of War. When attacks start, there's a five-minute window where players are informed, "Your shit's about to get fucked up, y'all should look into that." But, if you've spent $8,000 to $9,000 over the course of a year, you can shave that time down to under a minute. It's like being able to throw a sucker punch before the opening bell of a boxing match. To be fair, you could research that technology without spending money ... if you wait 58 years.
But, by far, the most dick-punchingly shameless feature are shields. Let's say you want to take a break from the game. You're not quitting; you just need a week off because your whiny kid wants you to buy him food or some bullshit. But, you don't want your empire to be ground into dust while you're gone.
First, you can protect all of your assets with a process that takes about 30 seconds once every eight hours. This is inconvenient, and it precludes you from vacationing anywhere that's too far from a cellphone tower. But, the real problem emerges when your empire grows so large that this little trick isn't feasible anymore. Then, the only way to stay safe is to have a shield, which protects you from all attacks. Now, most items get cheaper as they get more powerful, so an item that lasts three times as long as another will only cost two-and-a-half times the price. The 30-day shield takes this rule and curb stomps it.
The Addiction Can Cost You Everything
About 38,500 people sign up every day, so it seems like Kate Upton's tits make a good argument for the game. This is the dark future of gaming. Casual games are the most popular genre and pull in billions of dollars. They're purposely designed to be addictive, but they're not designed to be fun -- if they were, why would you spend money to improve the experience?
I play Game Of War for half an hour every morning, five minutes every hour at work, and, whenever I'm watching a movie, cooking dinner, or doing basically anything that isn't driving or having sex (although, in the right position ... ). Once a week, there's an event that takes six hours. I would add all that up, but I would be scared to look at the result. Had I known about the time commitment, I never would have started.
And that's not to mention the money. You think all those little charges sounded bad, you haven't seen them all added up. If you had told me a year ago that I would have dropped 8,000 Euros on this game, I would have laughed in your face. But, that's light: One Belgian teenager has dropped $46,000 on the game. The leader of my alliance works six days a week and uses the game to unwind. He's dropped around 75 grand -- more than most of you make in a year sacrificed to the most mediocre strategic gameplay that 1997 has to offer.
I'm not saying games are evil, but titles like Game Of War have no end goal beyond addiction. David Wong wrote about the creepy ways games try to get you hooked, and this is the culmination of all of that nefarious knowledge. It's gaming's Manhattan Project.
For more insider perspectives, check out Bribing Kids: 5 Realities Of Planning Rich Kid Birthdays and We Have Protesters: 5 Ugly Truths Of The Spelling Bee.
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