Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Is There Hope For 'Freemium' Tie-Ins?

I wrote this piece earlier in the month for Forces Of Geek. Enjoy!

I hate to use the phrase, "I've had no time to play video games recently" but that's exactly the situation I find myself in...*shock, horror etc.* that's not to say I've abandoned my console entirely because I have had some time to play through a few levels of Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China and ever since the Fallout 4 announcement, I have been managing my own vault in the iOS Fallout Shelter game as a benevolent yet forceful (when she needs to be) Overseer of my very own Vault 221.

Despite getting some play time on these two games, my first sentence remains truthful because I genuinely haven't played a game for more than 20 minutes at a time of late. Plus, in my opinion an arcade title and a freemium game don't really hold the same weight as say, a heavy story-based first person shooter or a sprawling open world fantasy RPG, despite how you label it. You can call that a four-legged domesticated animal with a tail a dog or a cat (or whatever you like) but only one of those labels will be the correct one.

However, it has brought to light an interesting point. I actually downloaded a freemium game. That's not such a big deal but those of you who read me regularly will know just how much I despise freemium games.

Southpark perfectly capturing everything I hate about 'freemium'
Everything about these games makes me angry, from the way they manipulate people into paying excess money in micro-transactions to some even withholding entire levels and halting your progress unless you pay up. On the whole, I find freemium games quite appalling with their poor quality gameplay, even their name is stupid; 'freemium'.

Ergh... I'm aware the fact I ditched my principles for Fallout Shelter was an incredibly hypocritical move and one which surprised not only myself, but many of my friends too.

What was it that caused me to turn to the dark side? I suppose the answer is quite simple and can be summed up in a single word, Bethesda. It's no secret that I adore Bethesda and I have been known to fangirl over most of their titles, it's because I enjoy their games so much that I was willing to cast aside my aspersions of freemium games. I was confident in their ability to create a game that was fair and that didn't force feed in-game transactions or advertisements.

Screenshot from Fallout Shelter
It definitely didn't disappoint me because the game is enjoyable, feels like a Fallout title despite the format being so different and it rewards you for playing over time and through completing daily tasks. This is without you paying a single penny.

Of course the option is there, hidden away in a side menu might I add, to buy mystery cards that reward you with bonuses but these happen enough in-game that you never feel under any pressure to spend any of your hard earned money - which, let's face it you're probably saving up to buy the special edition of Fallout 4 in November.

What's more, you can see that the developers didn't rush this title out for the E3 announcement, no where is this more evident than in the entertaining dialogues between your vault dwellers as you check in on them from time to time. Whether they're employing cheesy chat up lines or philosophising about the Wasteland being one giant mass grave, the dialogue is well thought out, relevant to the franchise and amusing to watch as you're waiting for your supplies to increase.

The fact the game is free means fans are rewarded with this well designed iOS game leading up to the main event. The fact that it's good keeps the E3 hype train going and ensures people will continue to talk about Fallout right up until the release of Fallout 4. I'm doing it now, God damn you Bethesda!

Overall, it's a very smart move on the part of Bethesda because other developers have tried tie-in iOS games and failed at the first hurdle because they rushed to complete their titles or charged money for them. I was very excited to see that Fallout Shelter had overtaken Candy Crush Saga in sales last month because that is the iOS game I despise the most!

The Assassin's Creed series released a free iOS 'companion' app for Assassin's Creed Unity which accessed extra content in-game, opened up new missions and worked directly alongside the game. However, there were so many glitches and issues with Unity that eventually, Ubisoft were forced to scrap the app entirely and gave everyone access to the content. If just a little bit more time was dedicated to it, perhaps the app would still be in use?

Screenshot from Assassin's Creed Unity alongside the app
Many companies are focusing on apps and freemium tie-in games at present and the majority of these are released simultaneously alongside their corresponding console titles. You can't really blame them given the success of other freemium games and an increase on the number of people who now play games on a daily basis, as a business it wouldn't make sense to ignore this new market however detestable it seems.

Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto 5 had an iOS app released alongside it called iFruit, you could use it to teach Franklin's dog, Chop some tricks and advance his training directly in-game. Without the app, this and other content was instantly unavailable to a lot of players who missed out on this extra content. The unfair advantage was made worse by the fact that Rockstar developed only one version so only players with an iPhone could download the app.

iFruit screenshot
Naturally, that left many players feeling ostracised and angry. At least Bethesda are working on an Android version of Fallout Shelter. It's seemingly minor considerations like this that makes it far superior to any other tie-in iOS game.

There is a comic book comparison I often like to draw on which dictates that there are no bad characters, just inappropriate writers. Even the most ridiculous character can be humanised or popularised in the right hands. Equally, I find a similar logic extends to iOS games. While a high percentage of them can be terrible, in the right hands many iOS, freemium games and all other app-based ilk are excellent.

I'm mainly looking at Fallout Shelter as a freemium newbie, though I'm sure there are other examples that get it right...right?! Please tell me there are...I really mean it, get in the comments section right now and let me know.

I hope other decent titles do exist in this format and if not, perhaps Bethesda have paved the way? After all, so many of us rely heavily on our tiny screens for entertainment nowadays, it'd be nice if the quality of the games available was improved upon, especially given that the current standard is pretty effing low.


  1. I hear the android version's out, finally placating Mick Jagger,

    FS is cool :) I have like 170 dwellers and I'm sad the end is in sight

  2. I am a massive Fallout fangirl and I think FS nailed the franchise. Thanks for commenting on all my posts btw, dude! Appreciated! :)