Herein I think about the mobile game Card Wars. The thing about the freemium model is that it’s free if you so choose. Card Wars forgets the free part. I paid money just to download a freemium title. I feel like a fool and most certainly not mathematical in anyway.
The thing about the freemium model is the mium part, the paying of money if you so choose. Card Wars has remembered that part real good. Let me count the ways.
- You have a limited deck box, you can only have 50 cards max, you can spend premium currency to boost it 5 at a time
- Cards themselves can be purchased – in randomised chests, this is a CCG after all
- When you lose a match you can spend premium currency to keep the XP, non-premium currency and cards you have acquired during the match. I’m not sure but I think you can even use it to resurrect and continue as well
- To top it off there’s an energy meter as well, to play a match requires the spending of an ever increasing number of hearts, they recharge art a reasonable rate (so far) but who knows what ridiculous level of heartage will be required for later rounds. Hearts can of course be topped up with premium currency
What I’m saying is that they have covered every angle in a rapacious search for cash which feels particularly galling given that you have to spend actual cash money to buy the app in the first place.
Which is a shame as beneath the dead hand of monetisation strategies is a cute little game. A simple but not simplistic system allows the computer to play a decent game against you. A neat take on resource mechanics (reminding us once again what a terrible error the land cards were in Magic: the Gathering) which combines an escalating number of resource points each turn with cards being limited to being played on the appropriate landscape type gives interesting deck building and play decisions. And it’s clear the devs care about the game as they recently released a massive balance patch that changed pretty much every aspect of the game – initially the number of resource points didn’t increase each turn which led to numerous problems in the tempo of the game. It speaks of extended play testing and feedback.
Because freemium titles have to slavishly follow the formula of the Skinner box there’s a feature of the game designed solely to ding the reward centre of the brain that undermines this careful calibration. The player’s Hero card, their Avatar, the totem which needs to be defended can level up. In levelling up the hero increases the maximum number of cards a player can have in their deck and, crucially, the number of hitpoints they have. This breaks everything. You start playing games with 15 hitpoints on each side, before long you are at 45 hp each. How can any card be balanced for both a game when you need to inflict and protect against 15 points of damage and then when you need to do the same for 45?
This, more than the tawdry desire to try to get you to buy jewels, damages Card Wars. It is a shame, there is a worthwhile game that has been mutilated to fit an ideal, a production line approach to mobile gaming, that simply doesn’t work for the format.
That is what I think.