Warning: I am about to indulge in a curmudgeon rant.
I will probably sound like a crazy cat lady.
You have been warned.
I have a beef with in-app purchases. They are not just a minor annoyance to me. They are distracting enough that I have abandoned games I otherwise loved because of them.
In my opinion, the main purpose of gaming is cognitive stimulation. Games keep our brains busy when they would otherwise be dormant or occupied by something less useful. The best games are fun because they challenge our minds with puzzles that are solvable, but challenging enough that we have to put conscious effort into them. Sometimes we have to try multiple times until we solve the puzzle, but, the more effort we put into the game, the more satisfied we are in the end.
Smartphone games are specifically great for this. We spend a lot of our down time on our phones these days (or at least I do… Anyone? Buller? … Buller?). Just think about some of the greatest recent successes in smartphone games: Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Plants Vs. Zombies. Each of them have been downloaded to millions of phones and they have generated piles of very real dollars for their creators.
Part of the financial success of games like Candy Crush, is the fact that you can spend real money to get fake money to spend on upgrades within the game. These upgrades either get you past impossible levels or make difficult levels insanely easy.
This is where I begin to have a problem.
When the difference between getting from level five to level six is just $.99, it’s very tempting to press that little button in the right hand corner. (It’s always in the right hand corner.) But when we do that, we are not just circumventing a needlessly hard level, we are circumventing the entire point of gaming.
Through paying that $.99 we are teaching our brain that all problems are easier to fix with money than with hard work. The money actually seems to hurt less in the moment than spending a frustrating ten minutes on figuring it out on our own.
Now, I confess, I am fundamentally lazy, and paying to get beyond a certain level that I just can’t wrap my brain around used to be very tempting.
Until I took a second to think about what I was telling myself with that purchase.
I was telling myself that I was not smart enough to figure it out on my own. I was telling myself that my wallet was more powerful than my brain. I was lying to myself and myself alone about my skills on a game that I played in private and did not share with anyone else. There is no alternative universe in which that makes any kind of sense
Any kind of sense!!!!!!!
At this point, though, I need to make an important distinction. I may hate in-app purchases, but I love buying expansions.
Take Starcraft for example; The Heart of the Swarm was totally worth paying more money for. It furthered the plot of StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty. It added countless hours of gameplay. It was worth every penny. But it was a different kind of purchase than what I’m talking about. When you buy an expansion, you are paying the creators of your beloved game more money to further your experience within the world they created for you.
You are paying the designers, writers and programers to add on to their creation and bring you more fun challenges to puzzle over. You are not paying to bypass the primary purpose of the game. It is the later and not the former that needs to stop.
I recently downloaded Plants Vs. Zombies 2. I was surprised to see it was free, seeing that the original PVZ was somewhere around the sum of eight dollars. Once it installed and I set up my profile, I found out why. PVZ had succumbed to the in-app purchase epidemic. You can now purchase coins that allow you to add more powerful plants, or use more power-ups. Now, in classic PVZ style, you can bypass that process by earning coins through the course of gameplay, but it’s a whole heck of a lot harder, let me tell you. You also have to earn keys to unlock certain levels, and they are even harder to come by than coins. (You can buy those too!)
I was surprised at my level of disappointment when I discovered this about the game. After a moment’s thought, though, I understood the intensity of my feelings. Classic PVZ grows increasingly difficult and the boss levels are near impossible on a legendary scale. I have spent over a week working on the same boss level, trying every combination of plant and power-up that I could think of to finally arrive at that sweet combination of protection and firepower that resulted in the death of the great ZomBoss. There was no way around it. I had to just keep pounding my head against the brick wall of the challenge until I broke through or broke my head. Eventually I broke through, and it felt awesome! I solved the puzzle! Winner!
Now, I arrive at the final level and if I get frustrated enough, all I have to do is spend five bucks on power ups and zap every zombie that walks onto my screen with lightning. I don’t have to plant a single plant if I don’t want to! It’s Plants Vs. Zombies, not Almighty God of the Bottomless Wallet Vs. Zombies. And the fact that I could pay my way out of the challenge, zaps it of much of its power to make me feel like a winner once I do actually beat it all on my own.
Seriously, I would have rather paid the eight bucks up front. I would have happily payed the team of people that worked tirelessly on this app to bring me a fun, challenging game that stretched my imagination and problem solving skills.
I will not pay for cheats.
Stop the in-app purchases.