There mornings when you wake up, groggily recall what you did the night before and realize you fucked up. Sometimes this comes in the form of a poorly chosen hook-up, other times you rush to the toilet because you imbibed far too much alcohol. Or you’re me and wake up with a $99.99 iTunes charge for an in-app purchase in Game of War.
Many games that offer such large IAPs are advertised as “free-to-play”. My own interpretation of F2P has always been free-to-pay, because gaming today has morphed into an industry in which consumers are always able to spend if they want to. And believe me, they’ll want to. There’s a reason Game of War developer Machine Zone Inc. is valued at $6 billion. They’ve figured out exactly how to prod gamers into purchasing items and top players never get where they are for free. Their “trade secrets” on the best way to milk gamers even sparked litigation when a developer from a competing company claimed to have seen an investment pitch.
The success of “F2P” games has also led paid games to even offer ways to buy currency, speed-ups, cosmetic items, or other trinkets. The first cash shop pets and mount in mega-popular MMORPG World of Warcraft (which was seeing better days five years ago) sparked a huge debate about the ethics of charging for a game, the expansions and a monthly subscription, but still gating some items behind more purchases even after spending all that money.
PC and console games… OK. I can understand the allure. Items in titles that you’re heavily invested in which feature rich, detailed worlds and engaging game mechanics aren’t too hard to forgive. Maybe not $20k like this Redditor claims to have spent in ArcheAge, but a reasonable amount, sure.
But when offered with $100 purchases in a mobile game (I’m not saying that disparagingly, but the hardware doesn’t allow for as much depth) you have to wonder who would ever spend that much?! I’ve already shamefully owned up to my purchase and it does not make me proud to admit the amount I spent. It should be noted that I was in a more susceptible state, because I was in bed on prescription sleeping medicine, but the psychological hooks that led to my downfall were already in place long ago. Tons of chests containing random parts for crafting, double the premium currency, 3 years of speed-ups(!) was just too enticing to resist. Yes, that last part is correct and yes, some research takes half a year or MORE without boosts.
I’m writing this as a public walk of shame, cautionary tale and hopefully a stark look at what the industry has become and where it is deriving profit. There is charging for great content, then there is charging to be able to skip artificial barriers so large that make forking over a Benjamin seems somehow logical. Oh, and this was a thank you sale. Thanks customers: a special new $100 collection of goodies from your friends at Machine Zone.
There are people who are spending a lot more than me. There are people who will continue to spend in free-to-pay games. Luckily others are dissatisfied and some may just need a sharp reminder that there are better things to do with money. Hopefully this sharp rap on the knuckles for me might save you a few bucks down the line. It just isn’t worth it.
With gameplay based around all manner of timers and a daunting array of flowchart-like “research” trees, it may be hard to see why Game of War was one of the top-grossing mobile games of 2014. I’ll try to shed a little light on why I enjoy Machine Zone’s empire building game and find it one of the best distractions for my Tokyo train commutes.
Game of War players are tasked with creating a city which can generate resources (food, stone, etc) in order to further upgrade buildings, research bonuses, bolster defenses and perhaps most importantly, train an army. These all require time, but of course that can be sped along through the use of speed-up items which can be obtained for free, bought with alliance loyalty points, or through the use of “gold” which can be bought for real money. The last level of your city’s stronghold, the core building, can take two months to build before bonuses. Mine ended up at 45 days, but with more strategic planning it could have been reduced further. Other important researches, such as allowing extra army marches, can take over half a year.
I was able to blow through many of these timers by cashing in longer speed ups I had been saving. Machine Zone generously had given out 30-day speed ups to players awhile back, which really came in handy. My 20 million loyalty points also meant that I could purchase a size-able quantity of 3-hour speed-ups in order to progress faster.
So what is the point of all this waiting? War. The game’s title kind of clues you in to what you’re working towards. Events are divided into three general categories: Kingdom, Alliance and Solo. Kingdoms are the maps in which players exist in and there are hundreds of them now. Some events see which kingdom can train the most troops or kill the most monsters. This encourages co-operation between thousands of players within a given kingdom and discourages too much wanton mayhem since in-fighting hampers the ability to compete. For example, I play in a kingdom called ‘Selene’ and the top alliance (filled with players who have undoubtedly spent thousands of dollars) sets rules for us when fighting is acceptable. Alliance events are held to see which group of up to 100 players can do the best and solo events are individual.
There’s also an addictive number at the top of your city called ‘Power’. This is a combination of all that you’ve accomplished, but is most easily raised by training a bigger and bigger army. There is a certain satisfaction gained from seeing this number climb higher and higher, although seeing other cities with power in the billions can be a bit disheartening.
Unlike games such as Clash of Clans, battles are purely numerical and involve no troop commands besides allotting how many of each unit you’re sending to attack. This may not appeal to all, but I enjoy it infinitely more since I don’t need to tap a dozen times on the screen for very little control over units.
This is where the addiction comes in. It may be hard to find a fun and active group to get in with at first, but it is rewarding when you finally find one. I’ve been logging in daily over the last 274 days (the VIP section shows you your daily streak) and it’s mainly because of the people that I’ve been motivated to grow and do my best. Members talk daily using the LINE app and actively strategize together as well as do a lot to help each other.
Recently the alliance I’m a part of decided to make the minimum amount of power for membership 20 million, a number I was 5 million below. After sending out a mass mail asking for resources, marches came pouring in to support me and make sure I was equipped for the costly upgrades needed to progress. Cashing in a lot of my speed-ups, I was able to grow by 7 million power in a matter of days and safely retain my spot. It’s that push to do better and the support of others that really makes the game satisfying to play. You may never be the top player (not by a longshot), but being part of something bigger than yourself isn’t hard to do and together the alliance can tackle tougher opponents and compete in events.
I don’t like the term “free-to-play”; F2P titles are mostly about giving players the ability to pay more and more in order to play the game. Game of War is no exception and their packages are certainly aggressive. Each time you open the game you’ll be met with an ad for gold and a variety of “bonus” items. These start in palatable amounts, with the lowest being $4.99, but will climb quickly if you purchase one. The special sales are only available at one per price point, so if you cave for a $4.99 pack you will then only see offers for a $9.99, then a $19.99 pack, then $49.99, then $99.99. Purchase wisely, as not all sales are as good a deal.
Generally players who have decided not to buy anything (or simply can’t) won’t be able to compete with top-tier cities. They will also have to spend quite awhile saving up their gold obtained through events and other purchase-less means in order to upgrade a set of 3 buildings which use special items which are primarily gotten through spending said gold. My advice to new players: save, save, save.
Even if you can’t match the top players, there’s still a lot to enjoy through socializing with your alliance and working with them. Resources are easily farmed and there are many ways to get items without spending a dime.
Personally, I’ve spent around $45. If I do a little math, that means that a day of Game of War has ultimately cost me $0.16 which is a sum I can live with. In the future I do plan to spend $10 more, but that is probably all I will put into the title.
I’ve reached the maximum city level, so what’s left to do? Days and days of waiting for building and research upgrades, that’s what! Like many Game of War players, I have also started smaller cities (referred to as ‘farms’) which only exist for me to attack and harvest resources from. Although I could log in and out of separate accounts from one device, I actually utilize my iPad, iPhone and old Android phone to have separate devices for each city. Easy to keep track of and while I’m waiting for my biggest city to upgrade I can enjoy the faster pace of my lower level farms.
Throughout the article I haven’t even explained hero bonuses, gem slotting, equipment crafting and other various technical aspects of the game, so there is some depth for those looking for it. I have to say that no other game has made me use a calculator quite so much as I tried to find out just how much research I’d have to do in order to complete events or what a new stat bonus would be worth in saved time.
If anyone wants to risk addiction, I’ll be more than happy to help out. You can add my referral code MFJ3 23931 63483 and I’ll be able to find you. Have you tried the game yet? Let us know in the comments!