Usually when I review games, I do not typically cover games with in-application purchases. In-application purchases are called “microtransactions” and they are a model for raising money in a game by providing additional resources–time, items, click thrus, etc.–for real world dollars. I am a sucker for purchasable content if the content is fun/useful. And microstransactions can add up quickly.
To further complicate things, microtransactions are starting to be considered in terms of decision fatigue. Decision fatigue, per Wikipedia “refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual, after a long session of decision making.” Since games are typically a series of decisions (that’s kind of the fun) it doesn’t take long to weary of additional stressors in decision making, such as spending real cash. Decision fatigue can and does lead to irrational spending choices–such as spending way too much on a virtual world than you might in the physical one.
If you are thinking about building a game using the microtransactions model, I highly recommend you take a look at this Gamezebo article by Josh Wittenkeller, The Do’s and Don’ts of Microtransactions. He firmly articulates other reasons I typically don’t want to deal with microtransactions in a game: allowing users to unbalance the game through their purchases and inappropriately applying the in-app transactions, by either making players feel “robbed” of things they could do for free before, or by “selling” things at obscure and steep prices. Its and easy way to alienate players, myself among them.
That said, I figured it was high time I jumped into these games, at least a bit. I started this by accidentally downloading the Simpson’s Tapped Out. I didn’t know it was a microtransaction game. I didn’t really realize until I was almost done with the tutorial (turns out those donuts are very handy, and, unsurprisingly, are the currency that can be purchased to purchase in-game content). However, one of the highlights of the game is that you don’t HAVE to make a purchase in order to progress in the game. It definitely speeds things up, and it will let you purchase some special items, but you can get through (and have a decent time playing the game), just by waiting the times assigned to various tasks until they are completed.
The story follows one Homer J. Simpson of The Simpsons (with voice acting by the actors in the show), as he obsesses over a little village of elves on his “MyPad” and the town of Springfield is blown off the map by the resulting nuclear explosion that he did not prevent. As he notes, sometimes the safest place to be in an explosion is the center of it, and he gets up, dusts himself off, and begins reconstructing the town in an effort to get all the people back. along the way he learns that there are alternate Springfields to which the nuclear explosion has opened a dimensional portal; however, he can only do a few things in each of them each day before he has to wait for the next day/plot their doom, too. As you accomplish tasks you get additional characters to accomplish tasks with and for, from cleaning up (ie: picking up the nuclear waste and hoping you get a donut for your troubles, though you will always get experience and cash from it), to doing character specific things, like Lisa reading a book. In turn, the experience increases your levels, and with each new level you also get access to new tasks (as well as a 1 donut bonus). To aquire donuts (other than through game play), you select to purchase them; you are then taken to the Google Play store where you purchase the number of donuts you selected with real world money. I like this a lot because I already trust the Google Play store. If I planned to purchase a lot of donuts, I’d feel more comfortable doing it through Google Play than any other method (such as putting my credit card info into the game).
I have found this game surprisingly fun. As the tasks progress, they take longer, attempting to seduce you into purchasing donuts, which will shorten any task. So Lisa may play the Sax for 4 hours, but maybe she’ll finish in a matter of seconds with the expenditure of donuts. The number of donuts required reduces steadily as the amount of time remaining also reduces. Meantime, you’re meeting new characters, finding out that you can raise crops (like many of the farm games) but that the crops are nothing like the farm games, cause Krusty the Clown to perform for you, and terrorize Ned with multiple powerwalks. Of all the games I tried out for you, dear viewers, this is my favorite, and the only one likely to remain on my phone when this article is over. Note: this game does occasionally crash, and it likes for you to have an Internet connection (so it can check your phone clock against a central clock), but its pretty robust compared to other games i tried.
Next, I tried to try Fairy Tale City. It sounded pretty cool: “Build a magical City, and watch all your favorite fairy tales unfold in this world of fantasy!” Unfortunately, it will have to remain int he realm of fantasy, because I couldn’t get it to do anything other than crash. Grace, my phone is a 16GB blue Samsung Galaxy S3; you might have better luck with a different device. I am not linking to the game, because, well, if I cannot get it to open, then I cannot rank it/recommend it.
Keeping to the fairy theme, I tried Fairy Ville Farm City. Fairy Ville Farm is very pretty. Also, peculiarly, I like the “Get In Fairytale” button that shows up after the game has loaded. I like the idea of being taken directly into a Fairy Tale. Yeah, its an electronic phone, and I’m not wearing glass slippers (that you know of, anyway), but it is a little bit of magic. The tutorial is nice and does guide you through the process of using the game without expending too many resources–in this case rubies–that you can acquire outside the game. You then collect gold from farming (shocker–farm is right in the name!) and you gain experience (and thus additional things to do) by fulfilling the quests that appear on the parchment beside you. So, for example, you do things like provide housing to a specific number of dwarves by saving enough cash. In this game, you can use rubies to “speed things up” or do other things like access items higher level in the game before you get to that level. You spend rubies on spells to do these (and many other things). Unlike the Simpson’s game above, the ruby currency is not directly purchased. Instead, you do things like view advertisements, download and play other games, or purchase services in order to “earn” the rubies. There are a lot of options for earning rubies that cost no cash (at least at the beginning of the game). I downloaded a few apps, ran them, and then got my rubies. While the game basics were pretty easy to understand, I’m downright flabbergasted by some of the quests. Mind you, I didn’t devote much more than 20 minutes per day to this game (if that), but one of my quests–to plant 5 clovers–I’m sure would be really easy if I could freaking find out where the clovers are hidden in the purchase menu. While the game graphics are still pretty nice, they are not as neat as the intro screen, and you do spend a lot of time looking at crops, a derelict castle, and many, many houses for dwarves.
On the whole, the Fairy Farm Ville City scored well with me because it seems like you can play quite easily without having to purchase anything. The game does not have a social component–such as Farmville–and I find that kind of a bonus. I prefer not to pester my friends to water virtual crops, send gifts, or do other weird stuff in their virtual lives, but some of you may prefer Fairy Farm (note the lack of “Ville” in there) instead. The characters are, not surprisingly, a lot like the farmers in Farmville, if they lived in the 80’s and dressed like they did magic all the time in spandex suits and as much eyeshadow as they could cram on their faces. Or at least that’s my impression. Fairy Farm introduces the concept of energy to the game–which you can run out of if you don’t wait a while–as a forcing function for time delay. Completing the tutorial (with a peppy pixy that probably did not look like Tinkerbell by accident) did not level me (which is sad making, as the other tutorials did). Quests appear on the right underneath our energy meter and can be accomplished (at least in the early stages) pretty easily without having to acquire crystals, which is the currency that can be garnered outside of game (though, in theory, there are opportunities to earn it in game, I haven’t bumped into any). You can choose to either work for your crystals viewing ads, signing up for real world things, etc. or you can purchase them. Purchases also take you to the Google Play store. Like Farmville, there are lots and lots of cute animals you can buy with gold, but there are even more “special” beasts to acquire with gems. As I write this, I could be the proud owner of a rainbow peacock if I wanted to shell out 20 gems, right now. Which I don’t (since I only have 15). You can log into Facebook and get more crystals (one time bonus) and then use that connection to play with your friends. As, previously noted, I’m not interested in that (nor do I want to hear an earful from friends who may not want me spamming their FB pages) I will not be doing that at this time, so the review ends shortly: the game is cute, you don’t have to pay for items, and there is a social component for those who really want one.
I tried several other games, as well, but I’m noting this review has gotten kind of long, so they will have to wait for another day. In the meantime, feel free to go take a poke around the various app stores yourself. Be sure to download only from a trusted source, and don’t trust your data (such as credit card number) to any site without first confirming it is a trusted location; there are unscrupulous folk out there who might make it seem like you’re on the Google Play store, when you’re actually not. Sufficing to say, of the three games, The Simpsons Tapped Out was my favorite. I will do another blog entry on microtransactions game some time in the future. Until then, Happy President’s Day weekend, and good gaming!