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Mobile Gaming is Finally Stepping Back From the Freemium Brink

by GH Staff
No Freemium Game MHFU

“No Hidden Costs,” declares the sales pitch for Monster Hunter Freedom Unite for iOS [above]. “No additional fees after download!”

“NO IN-APP PURCHASES AND NO INTERNET CONNECTION REQUIRED TO PLAY” shouts the new Guardians of the Galaxy: The Ultimate Weapon’s sales copy.

These two recent releases know what they’re doing. In today’s mobile gaming arena, a game that doesn’t attempt to nickel-and-dime their players with unnecessary in-app purchases is definitely worth shouting about.

Early in the growth of mobile gaming, games were all either free-to-play with advertisements, free-to-play with no advertisements, or priced low enough to entice a fickle audience with short gaming attention spans. But then in late 2009, the idea of in-app purchases began to spread like wildfire after Apple introduced it to the App Store. Within a year, the “Lite” app version had disappeared. Within two years, even the AAA and mid-tier developers started getting in on the freemium trend.

Guardians of the Galaxy: The Universal Weapon

Part of the fire fueling this trend was a view that mobile gamers are a cheap and stingy lot. It was a view with some evidence behind it. For the longest time, any game priced above $0.99 was deemed “too expensive” in app reviews and forums even when the games were clearly better than the average free-to-play puzzle game. And yet these same players gladly embraced so many freemium games and then ultimately paid a lot more for their fun via IAPs.

Today, the App Store and Google Play are literally glutted with low-skill, high-cost freemium games that pester you to spend at every turn. And why not? Players apparently like to pay, and developers are happy to take their money. Who doesn’t want the kind of money that Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood is making right now?

But the mobile gaming landscape has changed since 2009. Mobile devices are more powerful, more plentiful, and better respected. Games like Infinity Blade, Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery, and Monument Valley have drawn wide attention. And so the pendulum seems to be swinging back towards an old-fashioned idea: that you get what you pay for the first time around.

MHFU and GotG are two examples, but they’re hardly the only evidence of the growing rebound. Just last week, Gameloft released Modern Combat 5: Blackout, their highly popular CoD clone. Gameloft was at one time was viewed as a trailblazer in mobile gaming, creating big games like NOVA when none of the major developers was even paying attention to phones and tablets. In recent years they’d fallen deeply into the pit of freemium and paymium games; but MC5 currently contains no IAP for its $6.99 price. This is a reversal from Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour, which carried a $6.99 price tag AND a full suite of in-app purchases.

Modern Combat 5

The move certainly hasn’t hurt MC5, which has been in the Top Paid apps in both iTunes and Google Play all weekend. And on top of both stores’ bestseller lists? Perennial chart-topper Minecraft PE, which has carried a $6.99 price tag since its release and has never offered IAP.

I hope that this is the beginning of a turnaround for mobile gaming. While it’s clear that games like Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood aren’t going anywhere, to relegate mobile gaming to only purchase-laden freemium time-wasters would be like stocking a Barnes & Noble with nothing but trashy romance novels. I for one will continue to support quality gaming on my iPad, and I will pay a fair price for great gaming experiences.