I love cooking games. I’ve played many starting with Diner Dash and Kitchen Scramble when I was young. When I found Cooking Dash on iOS, I quickly fell in love.
I downloaded it, played it, and was happy that the devs allowed me to progress in a meaningful way. I collected the currencies in game and felt like playing was worthwhile. I liked the challenge of having to replay a level over and over, shaving seconds to make sure I did as well as possible. But life happened, and I got distracted.
Months later, I started playing it for real, every day. This began an obsessive run to make progress. I paid for the ad-free version, which I have never done in another game. Ads give essentially no revenue, and honestly, I would have paid $40 (or even more) for this game. I sank so much time into it! I unlocked the entire first screen of venues, slowly putting gold into earlier levels, leveling up steadily. There were even promotions that gave free venues (Yay!). My progress gave me meaningful currency, and the monetization seemed reasonable.
The host of empty venues warned me that progress wasn’t going to be sustainable. It was exciting that there would be so much content to play! But there isn’t. There is content to buy.
Cutie Cakes was when monetization got out of control. I had been trying to unlock venues in order, and suddenly upgrades were unbelievably expensive! I skipped the level assuming I had to be missing something: multiplied gold earnings maybe. Well, that doesn’t exist.
I’ve unlocked 39% of the content in Cutie Cakes, meaning I’ve paid well over 100 gold. Buying the next tier of each object in this level would be 426 gold. Seeing as 15 gold/day is rare, that’s insane!
Then, I got pulled into the double gold weekends for completing “offers.” I was like, “Okay, if I do this for 10-15 hours and get 300ish gold each weekend that’s enough to keep me progressing.” But it wasn’t. The gold was gone almost instantly, and progress was impossible without more upgrades.
But I could support the developers and buy gold, right? I said I’d be willing to pay $40 for the game. Let’s look at gold costs:
300 gold won’t be enough to upgrade this level; so, I’ll get 1000. That might level up 2 tiers! That will be… $49.99.
Okay, but I love the game, it’s worth it, right?
Nope. Because that isn’t unlocking a game. That unlocks a level. And Enso Sushi’s upgrades are MORE expensive. So, buying the next gold tier ($99.99) I would get 2,500 gold, and I don’t know if that would be enough to unlock everything in the sushi level because that information isn’t public.
Without someone buying every tier and recording prices, there will be no way to find out what the investment in any given level will be and the community attempts have come up short. And who knows if everyone even pays the same?
I’m angry because I don’t understand what they intend for me to buy? Everything? But why am I playing if playing doesn’t do anything but unlock an opportunity to spend more money? I can buy powerups, autochefs, levels, and pets. I don’t even remember what pets do (deliver food, maybe?)! And I can’t progress without buying appliances, which means playing other “offers” or buying my way up.
Great. *confetti falls*
And the publishers don’t care that it’s not a fun gaming experience. All they care about is that it makes money. Looking at Glu Mobile Inc.’s Quarter 3 2018 Earnings Call, do you know what I see? A company that is ready to make more money factories by mixing eye catching brands (Like Gordon Ramsey or Flo from Diner Dash) with enough artwork and mechanical structure to make clicking the screen feel like something you want to pay to do. They have Diner Dash Town slated for 2019, and will continue to make money, show growth, and keep shareholders happy.1 That’s the point of game conglomerates that eat up small studios and create mass marketable media that is easily consumable.
I never heard it put better than by a user on a Reddit post from 2014. A self reported AAA expat, he outlined what he felt the issue with the app store was:
“Then came the golddiggers, with Zynga at the head, and along with quality, originality got slaughtered as the marketing drones cheered on. As people weren’t willing to spend even $9 for a game (because the low quality had eroded all the trust in the app store) you had to go free, and instead of selling experiences, you started selling gratification. And here we are; where Candy Crush Saga is making crazy money. Is it original? No. Is it good? No, it’s a shitty game. But it’s a great product.”2
Let me repeat: “It’s a shitty game. But it’s a great product.”2
Maybe I should try paid mobile games, but mobile games now immediately trigger my disgust at the trends that “free” games have initiated. I wish there were demos for more paid games because if I liked it, I would buy it!
Now, excuse me while I go play Overcooked 2, again. Maybe there’s more DLC that’s actually worth my money.
1glu. (2018, November 6). Glu Mobile Inc. Q318 Earnings Call. Retrieved from https://glumobile.gcs-web.com/static-files/c69abce4-e94f-400f-8892-cb76669665dc
2teetow. (2014). “I’ve been designing, marketing, and monetizing iOS games since 2008, including a few that hit the top charts. AMA and I’ll give what advise I can.” Retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/gamedev/comments/1eafuv/ive_been_designing_marketing_and_monetizing_ios/