Grinding our way through the latest iOS genre darling, Freemium games, is becoming somewhat of a turn off. There may or may not be a backlash to the developers or their games, but I'm feeling a definite slacking off in my interest in these types of games.
First off, let's be clear on what freemium even means. Wikipedia defines the term as " a business model that works by offering a basic product or service free of charge (such as software, web services or other) while charging a premium for advanced features, functionality, or related products and services."
In the iOS app world, and more specifically, the gaming app world, Freemium has been hailed as the next big thing for companies wishing to make money. Some developers I spoke with at GDC seemed to think that the entirety of the iOS gaming market was going to a Fremium model, though I tend to agree with Tracy Erickson over at Pocket Gamer, who posits that Freemium games will continue to be a successful niche of the gaming market, and not be the whole of iOS gaming's future.
Rather than repeat what better minds have already covered, I'd like to focus on the consumer end of the equation. As an avid gamer across all platforms, I've seen my share of games. And, to be honest, Freemium as a business model doesn't inspire me to play a game. The ephemeral "fun" factor is, however, something that motivates me. I'm assuming it will motivate other players as well.
Many of these games seem to be about the mechanics alone. This is the Freemium Grind. Farmville is the grandame of Freemium gaming, of course, and the Freemium Grind mechanic is fairly transparent: build a farm, grow stuff on the farm, sell said items, gather in-game currency, and start the cycle again. Added into this mix are some social reciprocity (I'll give you a gift so you will give me a gift), and some pride in place (this is my farm, there are many like it but this one is my own). Other games that fall in this category include Smurf's Village, any of the Story games, Mafia Wars, We Rule, etc. There are some other games that hide the basic mechanics behind some other mechanics, like Gun Bros, Pocket Frogs and Pocket Legends, to name a few.
What is it, though, about this mechanic that turns me off? The artificiality of it, for one thing, bugs me. When I invade in ZombieFarm, I have to wait another couple of hours before I can invade again. Or, of course, I can go ahead and purchase an upgrade for a invasion recharge. This isn't fun. Another thing that bothers me is the continual reminders. I stopped playing We Rule and GodFinger mainly due to the constant notifications. I don't need more things telling me that I have to take care of them. I have children and pets for that, thank you very much. I don't want to feel obligated to launch a game - don't we all have enough obligations in our lives?
When are we going to see a Freemium game that isn't like this? Where's the incredible gaming experience that is free or low cost to enter, but then offers thrilling and fun gaming experiences? Where's the World Of Goo Freemium? The Rolando Freemium (oh, yeah, they couldn't figure it out)? The Flight Control Freemium?
I'm sure there are smart developers out there. Making iOS apps is not for the intellectually challenged. I think, however, that we need a new star to step forward and not just take the Freemium model to the next logical step (hardcore freemium, music game freemium, shooter freemium, etc.) but to turn it on its head. To make a game that is TRULY a fantastic game, that is free to play, yet encourages folks to purchase in-game items. How do we do that? Is it possible? Some think it is, but I'm not holding my breath.
Like most difficult questions, I don't believe this one has a definitive answer. We need the premium, buy once, play forever games as well as the free to play, mechanical freemium games as well. But we also need something new, if the freemium model isn't to crush itself under its own weight and continued copy-cat-ism that reigns in the space. Who's gonna step up? Will it be you? Let us know in the comments.