Just recently, Apple introduced a new sub-category in their app store’s game section: “Pay Once and Play”. The category is as ridiculous as it comes, but not because it’s not something people would want. It’s because it shouldn’t have to have a category of its own; it’s how games used to be, and how games should have stayed.
I don’t think anybody who is able to read this article is so young that they don’t remember a time when you would go to the store to buy a game and walk out the door knowing that you’re getting the full game experience right then and there. No extra costs would be added in later, and if you wanted to get to the end of the game you had to actually work for it. The same cannot be said for many games today, whether it’s on console, PC, and now mobile.
I had high hopes for gaming on smartphones, but as more and more “In-App Purchase” games were released and grew in popularity, I began to lose hope that I would grow to love gaming on mobile as much as I loved gaming on consoles as a kid. As it turns out, though, my dismay on the situation concerning these in-app purchases was something that wasn’t often met by a younger generation - at least when it comes to my younger siblings. After a couple of eye-opening discussions, additional in-game purchases are a completely normal concept to them.
The discussion started while I was watching my little brother excitedly purchase what’s known as “Downloadable Content” (“DLC” for short) on Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U. Apparently, every so often Nintendo releases additional bundles for purchase on certain games. In this case, my brother really wanted to use the character Link from The Legend of Zelda series as a driveable character. The bundle costs $7.99 and includes other characters, as well as a couple of extra tracks and some additional vehicles. I totally get why he wants to use Link as a driveable character - The Legend of Zelda is one of our favorite game series. However, (and I hate to use this phrase, but it is absolutely necessary) back in my day if we wanted something, we had to earn it. By initially purchasing the game, you had access to anything unlockable in the future. The only difference was you couldn’t purchase it, and you certainly didn’t have purchase only options.
My brother, though, was totally okay with paying extra money for this. And it completely baffled me because in my mind, he should have already owned the content because he already owned the game. Maybe Link could have been an unlockable character, but not a character that would need to be purchased separately.
It’s obviously not the end of the world, but in-app purchases just seems so very wrong to me. Especially whenever the in-app purchases or downloadable content is for more than just mere vanity - often times the purchases are used to get ahead of other players, and can provide an actual advantage. Perhaps this is once again me speaking from an outdated view on gaming, but being able to pay to get ahead feels a lot like cheating. It takes the fun out of playing the game if I know that something is throwing who knows how much money into the game just to win.
Us poor plebs like to win too, ya know.
The state of gaming in general isn’t quite what it used to be, so I guess, in a weird way, it’s refreshing to see Apple give a push to these “Pay Once and Play” games. They’re some real quality games too, like Bastion (which I’ve played on PC - a truly beautiful game), Goat Simulator (another game I own on PC. A silly game, yes, but you wouldn’t believe how much playing as a goat destroying a neighborhood relieves stress), Monster Hunter, BioShock, Final Fantasy titles, and more. Yes, these games have been here for quite some time, but you’d have to dig through a sea of more popular games which features in-app purchases in order to get to them, and a lot of people didn't even know they existed because games like Candy Crush Saga (whose players spent over $1.3 billion on in-app purchases in 2014 alone, which explains why in-app purchase games are so plentiful) are pushed a lot harder. At least, they were before Apple pushed for this strange, new concept.
Perhaps gaming will never return to its previous state of having to work to unlock features and get ahead, but it would be nice if more game companies realized that paying once to play is just the way gaming should be. I can deal with ads, and I can deal with losing to people who have better skills than I do. But I cannot deal with games that guarantee people with far more expendable wallets than me will win at. It just makes me rage quit.
So we’ll end with a quote from a favorite villain of mine, which always seems to shine through at the oddly frustrating aspects of life: "Life's not fair, is it?"