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.

...To Worse

Pocket Change is a whole new type of evil, however. Here's how the system works, according to Pocket Change's own website:

2012-02-22 19h19_45

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

Thanks MarcusMaximus!

Eric Ravenscraft
Eric is a snarky technophile with a taste for the unusual. When he's not obsessing about Android, you can usually find him obsessing about movies, psychology, or the perfect energy drink. Eric weaves his own special blend of snark, satire, and comedy into all his articles.

  • skitchbeatz

    Let's make an effort to protest games that use this kind of system.

  • drksilenc

    protest i just think people will uninstall after it runs out. this is like a car sales man type of deal

  • http://krunchtech.com Nick DeSousa

    Every developer out there wants to strike it rich on their next app, that's a given. Every gamer out there doesn't want to jump through hoops to play their games, also a given. We understand that developers deserve money for their creations, like the many artists of our times. So please, for the love of all that is sacred, just make a great game with all its content unlocked and put it on the market for $2.99. I can't speak for everyone else, but it's honesty, not "innovative marketing" that gets my bill and my gratitude.

    • Matt

      Well said. I refuse to play games with in-app purchases. I would gladly pay the entire cost upfront (and have for many games and apps), but in-app purchases in general just allow for shady and slimy business tactics. Not to mention I have little faith in developers making them transferable between devices, something I can get if the app/game and its license, for example, are both on the Android Market. I value this greatly.

  • koniczynek

    As long as there will be people willing to pay for DLC or playing there will be DLC and playing fees. Free market rules.

  • http://www.droidgamers.com ExtremeT

    I only know of one game, or platform depending on how you look at it, that uses this system and I believe it is the Artari retro arcade for mobile where you have to buy tokens to play games. Thankfully this isn't on Android just yet.

    The mobile platform doesn't cultivate this sort of format anyways so I don't think it'll take off on any sort of massive amount.

  • Alex C

    Interestingly enough, I just decided to pay $1.99 for some in-game credits on Running Fred. It's F2P in the market, but ability upgrades would take a long time to grind out with their earn-free-tokens game mode. I felt the enjoyment I got out of it was worth a donation/purchase, though I can't see myself spending more on additional tokens (the $2 option is enough to get a nice base of skills).

    I don't like the pay-per-play model here though. Seems more disingenuous or scummy. Ideally I'd like F2P with ads or time-limited or something, with a higher priced option for the full game. I'd even support higher game prices to help the devs out ($5-$10) if it meant we went away from Pocket Change's method.

    • Alex C

      Whoops, forgot to close that link tag. Just wanted to link to AP's coverage of the game lol.

      • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

        Closed it for ya.

  • sriracha

    so basically, we'll be renting games and apps? pass. i thought not associating in-app purchases was wrong.. this is a whole new level of jackassery.

  • http://Website Ian Agent

    No-one ever played games via wild tangent? Thus isn't news.

  • paul r

    Games with dlc are fine providing the base game is large and complete. You cod say call of duty DLC is the limit. There are a few *ville type games which are free but have some sort of in game purchase. These sort of games are ok if the game is massive and an all in one large game exists. But gaming is becoming greedy but provide an income over time rather than in waves

  • Ameer

    It's not too hard to get rid of a system like this - just don't play the games that use it. There are a LOT of available options available if you want to game. Don't pay for tokens and the tokens will go away.

  • Mooki

    I'd been praying that this wasn't the way mobile games were going.

    Sadly though, some of the "DLC" games are already truly obnoxious and had pretty much gotten to this stage anyway. One particular game I tried basically didn't allow your health to regenerate and then made it so you had to purchase health packs is by purchasing in game coins using real money. If that's not buying tokens to play I don't know what is. The in-game purchases were also horrifyingly expensive (like >£10 for a single item) which just made it all the worse.

    Result: One more game that was pretty reasonable and worth paying a few quid for instantly deleted, with no net gain to the developer.

    I'm all for paying for a game, and giving developers what they deserve, but the only thing some developers deserve is the middle finger, and the people who came up with this idea deserve it all the more.

  • yan

    Just sell me the f-ing game and when you have new stuff release it as a new game or expansion. How hard is that? Nickel and dimeing the gamer is never going to garner any respect. I liked the way some PC developers were going with the "standalone expansion" model where expansions where full games themselves which linked up and granted more features if you owned the original (think Dawn of War and Company of Heroes). This is how you reward people who purchase all your products. In app purchasing is a horrible model from the consumer point of view, and consumers should definitely vote with their money on this one and run far far away.

  • GraveUypo

    if they do this i'll just go back to cracking and hacking all my games. simple as that. something i didn't really want to do.

    DLC is already crappy enough - i usually miss part of the game because i simply refuse to pay a disproportional amount of money for only a little bit of extra content, but this is beyond ridiculous.

    charging for extra maps for instance is an offence to someone who had over 7 thousand FREE duke nukem 3d maps, and made over 20 himself, such as me. maps are simple to make and shouldn't be sold at all.

  • Ely

    This is not some conspiracy, it's just a new business model in the burgeoning mobile gaming market. And it makes sense. You may not like it, but that doesn't mean it doesn't make sense.

    Yes, games are entertainment & they're fun, but the game industry is a business and it's all about the $$$. Without the money you don't have your games or you have crappy games.

    And you used to have to put a quarter (worth a lot more in the 80's) into the arcade every time you wanted to play. This is no different. Yes you got a bunch of free games while the industry found its legs (just like with MP3s), but now it's time to start paying for the games you want. So quit your bitchin' and just deal.

    • http://krunchtech.com Nick DeSousa

      Ely, I think it's safe to say that everyone on the planet knows that the game industry is like any other industry on the planet; Money oriented and full of shady tactics. What might not be so apparent to the developers and marketers of these games is that people are getting fed up of the constant increase of these peoples greed.

      Put it this way,
      You make a free game. A pretty decent one, but impossible to beat without buying $10 in credits to buy upgrades. 10,000 download it and pay. $100,000

      Someone else makes a game for $1.99. A well-rounded game with proper difficulty levels and no additional purchase necessary to have the full experience. The great reputation it has gets 500,000+ downloads. $1,000,000.

      Money doesn't grow on trees for us, but they harvest it like fresh fruit picked from our sprouting wallets. If they want our money they have. If they want our money they have to start thinking about the customer, not the cash.

      • http://krunchtech.com Nick DeSousa

        Forgive the stutter at the end. Chat box got glitchy on me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/abetsi Albert Rabuyo

    HAHAHAHAHA. Tap Sonic's already been doing this since launch.

  • http://www.vantechmag.com vantechmag

    I absolutely NOT like the idea of in app micro payments...

    But I would really love a "starter version" of any kind of app, that I first can try and then continue to use, after a very easy ONE TIME in app buy or ONE YEAR in app rent!

    And a "starter version" of a productive app, should naturally work in every way and only be time limited... While some games can offer the first three tracks, without any other limits...

    Then can it also be a free ad option, that maybe get slightly limited functionality and some apps can even offer all three alternatives, when its time to continue...

    The main advantages with this "starter version" system is that you can really try the real thing, you can also try some alternative apps that might be even better and if you really like the program, would you finally gladly pay clearly more too, often twice as much as you would pay for a program you can't try first... But the one year rent option, should naturally be clearly cheaper and anyhow be great for app creators that really believe in the apps long time value!

    Which naturally would be a HUGE benefit for the creators of fine programs and dramatically encourage finer programs... And it would also be very good for parents, that not have to worry about excessive in apps micro payments!

    *** If YOU like this system and know anyone that have some influence over Google Market and so on, talk with them about this possibility!!

  • Tommy W.

    This idea is TEARING ME APART

  • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

    Here we go: https://market.android.com/details?id=de.nurogames.android.tinybee.arcade

    The full game costs $0.99 too, I have no idea how they can even justify using the token version.


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