To say that DLC is a growing problem would be an understatement. Of the last five games I've reviewed for this site, all of them have had some form of in-app purchases to expand the game or unlock content. Sometimes it's awful, sometimes it's not so bad, but all of them guarantee you only get most of a game. A new service called Pocket Change, however, wants to let game developers charge on a per-play basis. This is beyond scummy.
Going From Bad...
Back before DLC became a common term amongst gamers, we still paid for extra content. Whether we called them "expansion packs", "map packs", or "Pokemon Every Color Of The Friggin' Rainbow", we would pay money for new content to extend games we enjoyed. It's difficult to say that paying extra for more content is universally bad. However, historically, the extra content (usually) had substance.
In recent years, this tradition has changed. Instead of paying $20 for, say, Half-Life: Opposing Force—a full expansion pack with new weapons and characters—a player is now asked to pay $2-3 to unlock a weapon or skill in a game they've already started playing. Instead of being additional content, DLC is frequently just pieces of the game, locked behind a paywall. When DLC is used to hold a game hostage instead of augmenting an already-solid game, it becomes anti-consumer.
Pocket Change is a whole new type of evil, however. Here's how the system works, according to Pocket Change's own website:
To summarize: you score a free game from the Market and, once you're hooked, the game developer charges you every time you want to play. To quote the brilliant Shep Smith, "It's all-you-can-eat crack, until you like a lot of crack, and then you gotta pay them." Which is totally not in any way hyperbolic.
There is mention of a way for players to "earn" tokens, though it's unclear how this works. Regardless, the system either demands more of a player's time or money to continue playing. Mobile games, however, are overwhelmingly casual. Players don't generally want to spend inordinate amounts of time and money investing in their games. Those that do usually get sucked into a Farmville-esque trap that's equally customer-unfriendly, if exceedingly effective.
It's Not The 1980s Anymore
Whether you buy or earn them, though, tokens have no business in modern games. Back in the heydays of arcade gaming, tokens were used as a system to not only charge for playing a game, but also as a means of crowd control. Individual arcade cabinets were incredibly expensive. Filling a whole arcade with them even more so. If a single player were able to come into your facility and play all day on a single quarter, an arcade owner would never pay for their games, much less turn a profit. Back then, tokens made sense.
Today, casual games are very different. It doesn't cost a game developer any more if a user plays for ten hours than if they play for one. There's no need for crowd control and token systems only serve to nickel-and-dime a user even worse than DLC already does.
Not to mention, it's unclear what constitutes a "game play". Would you need a token every time you lose a life? Or is it every time you start the game? If it's the latter, do you need to use another token every time you check a text message and come back to the game? Perhaps the most important question of all: why would you do this to your users?
We Were Destined To End Up Here
I discovered this system when a buddy of mine who's a game developer got an email advertising the service. He laughed it off, thankfully. So far, I haven't come across this type of system actually being implemented anywhere, but the fact that it exists at all means that someone, somewhere felt that there was enough of a business opportunity to pull it off. I want to believe that this idea came from some sort of Wiseau-ian perception bias that believes, desperately, in bad ideas, but the truth is that the current mobile gaming environment made this inevitable.
This type of system isn't an outrageous, insane, out-of-left-field cash grab. It's actually just the next logical step. When game developers get away with charging a la carte for pieces of a game, it's only reasonable for them to believe that they would be able to get away with charging a la carte for time on a game.
Don't get me wrong. Not all DLC is bad. If a game is whole and complete—and, more importantly, fun—on its own merits, then charging for extra content that extends gameplay can be good. Sometimes. However, charging for critical pieces of a "free" game is a shady business tactic. Charging users for non-existent tokens to play "free" games from the comfort of their own homes, however, is downright evil. Please, game developers. Never, ever, ever do this.
Source: Pocket Change