In-Game Purchases: Where’s the Line?

I review the occasional iOS game, and one trend that seems to be growing in the mobile gaming community is that of in-game or in-app purchases. Players will download the app, then make purchases of additional content to go along with the game they already own in order to enhance the experience.

Fine. I have my issues with them, but they exist, and as a gamer, I’ve got to deal with them no matter what.

It wasn’t until last week, however, that I found myself faced with a bit of a conundrum. I paid for a game to review it, only to find that the game itself was all but broken without making additional purchases of its content.

Now, it’s not like I purchased the game at the regular MSRP of $59.99; I only paid $.99 for it. But no matter the price I paid, the fact is this; I paid a price for it. And yet, I found myself getting nickel and dimed as I played, the game’s progression slowed way, way down…unless, of course, I wanted to pay to unlock certain aspects of it instantly.

I grew very frustrated with this, and started to wonder how I would even go about reviewing it. I mean, I paid money for an app that essentially won’t work unless I continue to pump money into it. And unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person to ever experience frustration with this.

So, where’s the line? When do games drift away from the free-to-play business model and wander into rip-off territory?

The business model of releasing a game and creating additional content to be paid for is still fairly new, having manifested itself in free-to-play online games and mobile games in the last few years. And it makes some decent sense, too; no matter how you spin it, games are pretty expensive. The hobby itself is expensive. And there’s nothing worse than dropping $60 on a game only to find out it’s not that great. Sure, you can watch preview videos and play demos until you’re blue in the face, but the final build of a game can sometimes be very different, and there’s always the risk that you might waste your money on it and find out you don’t enjoy it.

With this in mind, I actually see the sense in the idea of paying a low base price for a game initially, then paying extra to unlock or enhance the experience as you play. That way, you aren’t taking as big of a risk, and you have the opportunity to support the developers and this great game you really enjoy. If it’s handled right, it’s actually pretty smart, and I’d be willing to bet we’ll be seeing more and more game manufacturers move to this strategy in the future, especially in the online sphere.

But it’s the infancy of the practice that is the problem;it’s still such a new idea, that we have no gold standard in place, no bar set, no one good example to compare it to. So often, games taking up this model are kind of an at-your-own-risk endeavor; you never know if you’re getting into a fair game that will find the good balance between giving you enough of a game to start with and offering additional content, or if you’ve got yourself a rip-off installing on your platform of choice. Its the infamous “pay-to-win” model we need to be aware of, and the fact that I paid for a “pay-to-win” game and didn’t win suggests a serious problem to me.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the matter. Tell me in the forums and in the comments below!