Do you purchase in-app unlockables in mobile games?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: July 4, 2012

Back in February, I had just purchased an ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime and I had a bit more free time on my hands than I do now. I spent a lot of that free time consumed by mobile games. Words With Friends, Draw Something, Shadowgun, Asphalt … you name it. If it was a big title in mobile gaming, chances are I played the crap out of it for at least a few days over the course of about three months.

Slowly, the fun in mobile games started wearing off. It became boring, almost like a chore. And I was fueling entirely way too much time and energy into gaming. (It happens to the best of us all from time to time. Right?) It was a new month, work was in full-swing and I had almost completely stopped playing games from my my tablets and phones.

Since then, a few interesting mobile games have launched and others that I wasn't convinced to buy at full price went on sale. I've purchased a handful over the past month and have been getting back into gaming at a leisurely pace. (I don't want to get sucked in to the extent I was before.)

In just a few months, though, the mobile gaming space has changed quite a bit. Not entirely. But a large number of developers have adopted the freemium model: offer the initial download, install and the first few levels for free, but reserve the rest to be unlocked through in-app purchases. And the freemium model itself has even evolved. Last night, MADFINGER Games (the ones responsible for Shadowgun, one of the best mobile games I have ever played) released a new game called Dead Trigger. It's a first-person shooter, zombie apocalypse survival game. After seeing it was only $0.99 in Android Market and having a shiny, new tablet to play with, I decided it would be worth trying.

I only made it through one level last night before I started to doze off. But I picked it up again earlier this afternoon just to mess around and get a feel for it.

To no surprise, only four levels in, I was given the task of buying a gun from the Store with the money I had earned and found scattered throughout the levels. I had already earned enough money to buy a Colt 1911 for $300 (definitely a downgrade from the Cold M4 assault rifle I had been using) and I had nearly enough to purchase a Scorpion submachine gun for $2,000. But the next gun – the Colt M4 – is so outrageously expensive, it might take me weeks to get to the point of unlocking it, unless the game speeds up tremendously. It's possible, but I could also just buy 200 Gold for $0.99, which would give me more than enough to purchase the gun for 35 Gold.

And that's what some of these game developers bank on, premium unlocks that can slingshot you through a game's story line and still keep you interested enough to come back for more. They could charge you $7.00 to the application to begin with and leave it at that. Or they could get you in the game for nothing (or next to nothing) and eventually have customers spending $10, $12 or even a significant amount more over time.

For Remedy, creators of Death Rally, this model has worked extraordinarily well. As Tero Kuittinen of BGR explained last month, the biggest money-maker for the company is in-app purchases that speed up the game progression. Kuittinen said:

"The $2 option for speeding up the game by 50% is the biggest in-game revenue generator. Surprisingly, the rather expensive $3.99 option for speeding up progression by 300% is also more popular than new vehicles or weapons."

But that's not all. There is a $40 (that's right, 40 buckaroos) unlock called "God Mode" that is essentially a donation, which apparently generates almost as much revenue as the top $2 Reward Booster (150% game progression speed) purchase.

Personally, I just play mobile games to kill time and relax. I don't get that into them, and I don't take them very seriously (like I used to with console gaming). I have only played a handful of games all the way through. And most of the time, I get bored after just a few levels. I'm never tentative enough to fork over the cash for in-app purchases. Honestly, I will probably play Dead Trigger a few more times before I feel I've gotten my money's worth, and it will become lost in the sea of games I played and forgotten.

Apparently, a lot of people do make in-app purchases for games, though. Tell me, folks. Have you ever purchased an in-app unlock for a mobile game? If so, how much did you pay? Better yet, what's the most you would pay?