Despite its rapid growth and explosion in creativity, the mobile games market has moments that would make any sane person hammer palm to face repeatedly.
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The latest is the Monument Valley game getting one-star app store reviews because its developer ustwo dared to charge for new levels.
To quickly recap: the game was released for iOS in April, and Android the following month. It’s been acclaimed by critics, players and platform owners – Apple gave it a design award in June – alike since its release.
As a £2.49 paid game that reached 1m sales by August, it also provided hope that there was still a place for beautifully-crafted mobile games on the app stores, even if they didn’t adopt the freemium model that’s become increasingly dominant.
This week, ustwo released an expansion for the game, Forgotten Shores, with eight new levels to play. The company decided to charge £1.49 for the update via in-app purchase, but quickly found that this wasn’t going down well with some players judging by new reviews posted on Apple’s App Store.
It’s fair to say the response (on Twitter at least) has been very supportive, and judging by a follow-up tweet from the company – “It appears we created quite a stir, wasn’t intended” – ustwo may not be giving up on premium games after all.
Even so, the affair does throw up some important questions about mobile gaming, and the expectations of mobile gamers. “NOW TRYING TO MAKE ME PAY MORE MONEY FOR A FEW MORE LEVELS!” shouted one app store reviewer. “Errr no. Such a rip off,” wrote another.
“I expected the new chapters to be free, considering that I spent £2.49 buying this app in the first place. I won’t be spending any more of my money on this game!” suggested another.
It’s true, there is a history of paid mobile games making new levels available in free updates – Rovio still regularly adds level packs to its paid Angry Birds games, for example. And in the freemium world, regular updates also swell games without charging players directly: there are now well over 700 Candy Crush Saga levels.
Yet still, the Monument Valley update may be a good time for mobile gamers to step back and take a hard look at ourselves.
Freemium games aren’t all cynical, psychologically-manipulative cash-grabbers, whatever the harsher critics of the model might say. But paid games – and paid updates – can play a role in this world too.
Supporting that model means thinking hard about whether paying £2.49 for a game and then expecting free updates for its lifetime is sustainable, especially if the developer doesn’t have plush birds to sell.
The great thing about the app store economy – even if it’s often a terrifying thing too for developers – is that it’s a free market. Anyone who thinks £1.49 for eight new Monument Valley levels isn’t a price worth paying doesn’t have to pay it.
But taking that as a reason to one-star the game risks looking spoilt, greedy and entitled. Thankfully, with an average rating of 4.5 out of five stars for the current version of Monument Valley, most buyers are taking an alternative view.