I spent a chunk of time playing Plants Vs Zombies 2 recently, EA's latest forced foray into the world of freemium gaming. I came away bored, but also curious about how to best make a freemium game work for both developers and gamers alike.
I had all sorts of problems with it, although the fact that it was freemium didn't bother me in one sense. Freemium's just another payment model that games developers can choose to either use or ignore, same as any other. Want to give it all away for free? You're perfectly welcome to do so, just as you are to charge $100 for it if you think that gamers will cough up that much.
Freemium, though, gets a terrible reputation due to the actions of some games. EA's not immune to criticism here, with games like Tetris Blitz being notably pushy when it comes to freemium payments, to the point where they may as well be old school arcade games that require you to tape 20c pieces to the front of your gaming device of choice.
Plants Vs Zombies 2 isn't quite that obnoxious, but it has clearly been built around the idea that at some point you'll cough up some money to expedite play.
Once again — I don't hate Freemium for the idea of a bit of game for free, and other bits for money. Developers make stuff, and they can set the rules for how (or whether) you'll pay for it. In much the same way that we can decide whether or not to play at all, which is what I've ultimately decided with Plants Vs Zombies 2.
It's not that EA wants money from me. Give me the right games experience with freemium, and I'll cough up cash to play. Indeed, there are games where I've bought freemium stuff not because I have to, but simply because I've had so much fun with the free bit of the game that I'd like to reward the developers, big or small, for their efforts.
Sadly, with Plants Vs Zombies 2, that wasn't the case; I was ultimately left feeling bored with the whole experience, because it's so very similar to Plants Vs Zombies 2 with IAP bolted on. To avoid it, you've got to replay levels you've already played a LOT, and that quickly gets boring. I can put up with all sorts of things, but boring is not one of them.
It does leave me pondering what the "correct" freemium balance is, though. Yeah, I'm willing to pay for my games, and I've paid money when I didn't have to. Equally, being pestered to pay is annoying, and I've avoided all the Farmville/Smurf Villlage/Simpsons "building" games that are built on the freemium-or-crawl model. But is there a good middle ground?
Games are things we all love to get as cheaply as possible.
Nobody would care about a Steam sale if it didn't adjust prices radically. Everyone expects mobile apps to sell for 99c. Neither is necessarily a sustainable model in the long term, especially as games development costs continue to rise. Freemium could offer a way around that — and a handy way to stop piracy issues along the way — but it's not something that gamers like being battered around the head with.
Ultimately there aren't any "easy" answers to this kind of thing, but I don't think that's entirely to do with the comfort level of gamers differing when it comes to paying for games.