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Resolve to have real fun on your phone this year

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If you’ve got a smartphone, chances are you’ve got a few game apps downloaded. Whether you’re a regular player or you just have some games handy to kill time on a commute or when you’re waiting in a queue, mobile games are a booming industry. But how much fun are they, really?

Seriously; does anyone remember Farmville? It was extraordinarily popular after launching in 2009, but apart from the fact that it was easy to access on Facebook and offered some rudimentary social networking features, it wasn’t actually that “fun”.

Once the reward system of completing tasks for experience points to unlock new crops and decorations goes away (there’s a maximum level cap and I know this because my best friend and I were very competitive Facebookers), all you’re left with is a digital chore. It doesn’t feel good to plant crops any more, yet it feels kind of bad if you don’t. Boredom and guilt aren’t good gameplay elements. Uninstall.

So with the New Year coming up, make your resolution to have more fun on your phone using the information we have put together to help.

Microtransactions are huge

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A microtransaction is defined as “a very small financial transaction conducted online” and it’s how most mobile games make money. If a game is free to download, we expect it to include something like advertisements so the developers can earn revenue. There’s usually an in-app purchase option to pay a few dollars to disable ads (you know, as if you’d just bought the game for money). This method is a fairly honest, try-before-you-buy approach that helps a lot of games to get noticed in the first place because users are more likely to download a free app.

It gets insidious when the actual gameplay is geared around encouraging microtransactions. Imagine a free game where I have a character who races with other players online to complete mazes. For one low price of $1.99 I can buy a tiny pair of sunglasses for my little guy. They don’t really do anything; in fact they’re not related to the gameplay at all. I just want them to look cool and I’m happy to toss a couple of bucks at the developers who gave me a game I like. Fair enough, right? I don’t need to buy them to enjoy or win the game; it’s just some cosmetic stuff.

This kind of DLC (downloadable content) is probably the point of least contention in the gaming community because it’s mostly harmless. However, it also doesn’t offer much incentive to buy. The kind of DLC which drives sales annoys people a lot more.

Imagine instead that the little guys in this game have robot legs. These little robot legs can only run so far before they need more fuel or WD-40 or some other nonsense. Maybe one fuel refills every fifteen minutes, which is OK if you just play a little bit, but if you get into a serious maze-running session and burn through all your fuel, suddenly you can’t play anymore. You have to wait, or you could buy a pack of 10 fuels for $1.99. If you really want to play, why wouldn’t you? It’s just two bucks for 10 plays, which is even cheaper than the old arcade machines. The game publishers are hoping everyone else who plays the game will feel the same way. In 2014, Candy Crush Saga players spent over $1.33 billion on in-app purchases.

Frustration factors

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Everyone wants their game to be as successful as Candy Crush, but sometimes they just… aren’t. If you try out enough stuff in the app store, you’ll come across a lot of sneaky schemes to get more people playing and spending far more than they would on a “regular” game, including:

  • The waiting game – Little robot legs can run forever in the digital world. Limits on turns or resources are put there to get you spending to remove the limit.
  • Mandatory sharing – An alternative to spending money to get around the wait or unlock new levels may be sharing the game with a certain number of your friends and family.
  • Unfair difficulty – Once you’re hooked, the game may unexpectedly ramp up in difficulty so it’s almost impossible to win unless you buy extra power-ups.
  • Paying for the good stuff – This is especially prevalent in building/decorating-type games; anything they know will be popular or on-trend will cost real money.
  • Padding reviews – If something has a ton of 5-star ratings, it must be fun, right? Be sure to read the comments. Some games require a good review before you can even start playing properly, but people are pretty good at calling it out.

Worst of all, while you may be a pro at spotting these kind of hooks, spare a thought for the little ones. Kids haven’t had the time to develop critical thinking skills and they may not understand what something is worth in real money. Thankfully we’re seeing improvements in parental control features and in-app purchase transparency ever since Apple Inc. had to refund millions of dollars to consumers in 2014.

Assessing good games

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So how do you know what you’re playing is good? Try asking yourself these questions:

  • What’s the real cost of the game? (Hint: If it’s not money, it’s probably advertisements or working to distribute it amongst your friends.)
  • What actually makes this game fun?
  • Can you still have that fun without throwing money at it or bombarding your friends with spam?
  • Does it frustrate you, then conveniently suggest purchases that would make that frustration go away?

If you’re genuinely enjoying yourself, there’s no reason you shouldn’t pay a fair price for a game. Just remember that all those microtransactions can add up to a mega-bill in the long run. If you’re shelling out big bucks every month, it might be time for an intervention or an introduction to pay-upfront games which can give you better value for money.

Have fun in 2016 everyone!

What are your favourite games to play on your phone? Tell us in the comments.

Photo Credit

Johan Larsson

4 comments

  1. Katarina says:

    I recall playing candy crush for 10 minutes some years ago because one of the children had DL’d it. I am not a gamer & haven’t installed any games on my recent smartphones; must be due to my getting to middle age, a preference for reading books or occupying myself with the physical surroundings (indoors or outside), sans annoying earphones. I occasionally listened to FM radio on my phone many years ago but much prefer AM though a loudspeaker. To stay informed I like listening to reviews by the Good Game outfit on ABC somewhat irregularly.
    The social media/connectivity aspect of mobile telephony is fine but I don’t understand why many play games on these devices, unless they are drills and skills to enable one to excel at other pursuits (chess, bridge, golf, farming, …) or to replace printed versions of crosswords, brain teasers, etc. Digital – literally, using your fingers – entertainment industry based on boredom and guilt? People have it too easy or they are unimaginative if they ever get bored! Don’t know guilt but that happens when people don’t navigate using a moral compass thus disobeying their healthy conscience. Norberto Keppe would have a bit to say about it.

  2. Liaoverman says:

    I heard about some advise that helped parents and grandparents be in charge of what games kids downloaded and also times that can be locked out for overuse.
    As an elderly grandparent, always under pressure I would love some help in advising me what that app is.

    I don’t know how to get Reid of all this junk that the kids have now put on my ipad.

    Many thanks
    Lia overman

    • Brianna Burgess says:

      Hey Lia,

      An application (app) is software you can download for your device, often come in the form of games or utilities.
      If you’re concerned regarding the amount of applications downloaded by your grandchildren, you can configure your iPad to request a password to be entered upon each download. This can restrict the volume as you will be required to enter/approve of each download.

      For more information on how to set a password or remove applications from your iPad, we’d recommend consulting Apple for assistance: https://www.apple.com/au/support/

      – Brianna

  3. Ian says:

    Only game app I use is a free chess program. But have quite a few extra apps as well as all the Google stuff shipped on a Motorola phone.
    A couple of months ago, the periodic app updates from the Play Store were preceded by a dialog to provide a credit card number to “complete registration”. After always declining for a month or so it seems to have stopped and just updates.
    You need to be careful which category you end up in with Google. Best to set up a GMail address to use with your phone to collect all the spam, and keep you iiNet address from them for real email.

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