Tap! magazine deputy editor Matthew Bolton has written about IAP in iOS gaming, complaining about its increased dominance and the way that many developers don’t know where to draw the line. He talks about two different approaches: ‘complete’ and ‘endless’. The former is where you have a finite amount of game, chop it into bits, with some of said bits being premium upgrades. Hero Academy is a good example on iOS—a game where you can happily play for free, but where you must pay to unlock alternative teams and cosmetic upgrades. The endless approach is the one I’ve complained about before, where you require an in-game resource that either demands constant payment or that possibly recharges in a glacial manner, sapping enjoyment and increasing frustration. Bolton cites the bafflingly highly regarded CSR Racing as an example of this kind of freemium title; depressingly, it also manages to kill the satire in my piece that I linked to, in actually demanding payment for petrol. In a racing game. I think the phrase rhymes with ‘clucking bell’.

Bolton says greed is the problem (and that’s certainly the case in games that would otherwise be pretty good, such as EA’s latest Tetris for iOS, ruined by the freemium system), and he wonders if freemium will cause iOS gaming to be held back in terms of creativity:

If it looks like invasive IAPs are the only way to be successful, will brilliant games that don’t fit that model end up going elsewhere? When games are being created with the Endless model in mind, do traditional game mechanics, such as progression, fall by the wayside? I played No Zombies Allowed for a while, but gave up after a few days, because all I was earning was more of what I already had. I was accumulating, but for what? The game didn’t escalate. I was just building and building. What if all devs interested in offering a game with an actual pay-off abandon iOS for Sony, Nintendo or Microsoft platforms? That would be a huge regression for iOS gamers.

Those of you with long memories will argue we’ve been here before. In the early 1980s, arcade games were designed with a fixed chunk of time in mind for your 10p or your quarter, but if you got good—really good—you could sit on an arcade cab for hours. Those were the finite games of their day, and they were about challenging gamers to beat them. After the gaming crash in 1984, and with the realisation that almost every arcade game was selling fewer cabs than its predecessor, cynical business models took over. Games no longer gave you three lives and a stern challenge: instead, they eventually got to the point where they were totally impossible to beat, but they’d give you that wonderful option of the continue. “Feed me more money,” they’d say, a glint in their eye, “and you can carry on from where you just left off. Your time won’t have been wasted! Go on! You know you want to.”

To my mind, far too many iOS freemium games are now the ‘continue’ of modern gaming. They are designed around keeping you hooked through the time investment you’ve put into them, rather than around addictive, exciting, engaging game design. The problem is, money talks, and with top-grossing titles typically being the most exploitative money-gouging games on the App Store, why wouldn’t more developers head in that direction? My hope is that something—anything—will make them change course, or at least leave enough of the really great developers playing a fairer game, because otherwise the greatest platform since the dawn of home gaming will end up bloated and dying on the floor, surrounded by mouldy piles of pointless Smurf berries and tarnished ‘coins’, which are only accepted currency for a stupid pixelated hat or a hateful paid-for fuel top-up for a virtual car.