Lots of premium games are going free (sort of). Here's why

Posted by Campbell Bird on September 18th, 2019
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

You may have seen over the past couple weeks a that a bunch of premium games have suddenly become free. This isn’t a mistake, nor is it some last hurrah before Apple Arcade hits, and it’s important to know that these games aren’t actually becoming free.

What’s happening here is there is a developer called Bending Spoons Apps that is buying up premium games to put them on a service called Playond. Playond seems to be a competitor to Apple Arcade in the sense that it’s taking premium titles, like Fowlst, Crashlands, and MUL.MASH.TAB.BA.GAL.GAL, and putting them behind a $9.99/month paywall. In the course of this transition, the games themselves get updated to be listed as free, but—just like Netflix—you need to log into a subscription account in order to actually play them.

This might not sound great, but there is a bit of a silver lining. If you bought any of the titles that have been added to the Playond service, you don’t need to subscribe to play them. You can simply hit a “restore purchase” button that checks to make sure you have the game in your purchase history before letting you play it unhindered. The major downside here is that if you haven’t purchased one of these games yet, you now have to subscribe if you want to play it.

I have mixed feelings about Playond doing this. As a consumer, I’m a little peeved that some games that I could previously pay once to keep in my library are now behind a paywall, and a pretty steep one at that. On the other, the current state of the App Store is a hellscape for premium games, and I don’t have a huge problem with someone stepping in to compete with Apple to try and figure out how to fix things.

Actually, besides the price and quantity of titles (Playond seems to have ~50 titles right now, though they’re adding new titles at a regular pace), I kind of like the model for Playond better than Apple Arcade. The idea of early adopters getting the chance to buy premium games when they release before putting them behind a subscription service sounds kind of like a win-win. For people who want to play premium mobile titles without a subscription, they’ll have to pay for games a la carte as they come out, and everyone else can subscribe if they miss the window and want access to everything.

Granted, this all assumes that there’s a large enough market of people in general who want to spend money regularly on mobile games. There’s not a whole lot of evidence this is actually true, but keeping an eye on Apple Arcade and Playond seem like a good way to find out. I guess we’ll see in the near future how all of this plays out.

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