IAP and Mobile

In-app purchases and the free-to-play model have long been anathema to self-declared “real gamers” everywhere, but the recent release (or re-release?) of classics like Tales of Phantasia and Dungeon Keeper seems to have brought yet another wave of angry discussion to the forefront. Understandably, people are very angry that their beloved classics are being turned into f2p “cash farms”, but personally I think saying the model is “destroying the industry” is a bit hyperbolic.

In response, toucharcade recently published a post pointing out an article that takes a stance to the contrary. The original piece is definitely worth a read to anyone who cares about the topic; it makes a number of good arguments regarding pricing pressures and facing a realistic economy for the unprecedented levels of competition on iOS. But it also notes that the concept of paying for more content–the “original IAP”–dates back to the beginning of the industry with coin op arcade machines. This seems like a valid comparison superficially, but as someone who’s shelled out way too many quarters on the likes of Gauntlet Dark Legacy I feel like there are two fundamental differences that this argument glosses over.

First: arcade games always had a large skill component. It might take a while to get good enough, but it was always possible to beat the game consistently on sheer skill alone. The game might have been hard, but the balance was never so broken as to render completion impossible without the extra coins. Second: in the cases of the most nefarious IAPs, you’re not paying to spend more time with the game; you’re paying for the exact opposite. When an IAP does nothing but shorten a timer or increase a premium resource, you’re essentially paying more money to decrease the time you spend with the game. All “Skinner’s Box From Hell” arguments aside, that is probably what I object to the most. I don’t have an indiscriminate hatred for the f2p model–there are definitely cases of it being executed well–but I have a fundamental problem with paying more for less.