The dangers of "freemium" (i.e. free games)

Discussion in 'iOS Apps' started by macguy360, Nov 21, 2015.

  1. macguy360 macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2011
    #1
    I know I may get some flame on here since I am actually starting my own thread on this, but I had responded to some previous topics and felt the need to post this as its own thread. This is a long read, but I feel it is very important to be aware of this.

    TL:DR version. Apple has let companies sell "freemium" games that use principals based on behavioral addiction research. If you don't believe me, then read the 5 points below and then go to pubmed.com and look up research on gambling addiction.

    IMO Apple has let greed trump innovation in how it has allowed developers to build up a freemium market in the IOS app store.

    When the iPad first came out, very few apps were free. Developers built apps with the idea of selling them at a $0.99 to $9.99 cost range typically and Apple took 30% of sales. As the iPad models increased performance, new Apps and games took advantage of the new hardware and we saw games like Infinity Blade and open world RPG's being built that were amazing.


    Then developers realized they could make a game that was built similar in concept to a slot machine at a casino using cost/reward concepts that have been researched in medical psychology and proven to invoke addiction as a way of making money from micro transactions. These developers used these proven methods of addiction gaming to sell in app purchase items for upwards of $99 significantly higher than the cost of a typical console/pc game. People have spent billions of dollars on these "free" games to the extent that we now have television commercials during the Super Bowl advertising these "free" games.


    Not only has Apple allowed this insanity, but we as consumers have allowed it. Parents across the world are letting their children play with apps that are in essence, the same thing as letting their children sit down at a slot machine in a casino. If you haven't seen what gambling addiction looks like, go to a casino and watch people sitting at slot machines for hours on end. Look at their faces and you may realize they look quite similar in expression to the faces of children playing "free" games on IOS. Then ask yourself, should you be supporting something like this?


    You can actually go through and identify the different psychological tricks they do in the games. I'll use clash of clans as an example...


    1. In psychology, researchers have learned that providing rewards at even distribution intervals of time decreases desire to want to continue seeking the rewards. The trick is to provide a reward at a random time in order to not be able to determine when the next reward will be given. Thus in clash of clans, they have the Gems being rewarded from trees, bushes, and the occasional gem chest. They randomly appear and when you tap on them you are rewarded with a "Ding" noise similar to winning a casino slot machine. You also get a little animation type flash on the screen if you are looking at the bush, tree, or chest box when it pops the gems out. This leads me to #2.


    2. The first couple hours of playing a freemium game, you are being programmed to link reward with visual and auditory stimulation... think Pavlov's dog. The game starts out giving you free gems, a pretty decent amount if I remember correctly like 300-500. The game then walks you through the "tutorial" where you are shown "programmed" how to spend gems for speeding up actions/acquiring items in the game. Each time you are shown "programmed" in the tutorial, there is an auditory and visual stimulation so that your brain links those sounds and animations with the reward of progressing in the game. Additionally, the game provides reinforcement through the use of bushes, trees, and gem chests that give you the auditory and visual stimulus each time reinforcing the idea of using gems for rewards.


    3. As the game progresses, it continues to get harder to get the reward. You were originally programmed to expect the reward quickly in the first couple levels of the game. Then as you gain levels, it takes longer and longer. This is how they get you to spend real money on the game. You spend money to get the reward to be back to being quick like it originally was.


    4. Connected to #2, the game offers free gems to get started. Casinos do the same thing. If you have ever been to a casino, they usually give money for "free play" when you first sign up for an account. They also randomly send you mail with coupons for "free play". The idea of providing free gems at the beginning of the game comes from this same thought process of getting you to partake in the activities.


    5. Lastly, the game provides a multiplayer aspect giving you a sense of community. When you go to a casino, ever notice how the seats are next to each other at the slot machines or how you always see people playing at table games like craps with big groups of people and very rarely is there anyone ever playing on their own at a craps table or other table games. There is a psychological aspect of gambling in which a sense of community is created. You are doing it with other people and they are practically friends even though they are complete strangers and could care less about you. Creating a sense of community draws people in to play "freemium" games because it makes you feel more attached to the game. You have to go back and get on often so that you can support your friends in the game.


    Each of those previously mentioned points is straight out of psychology research. Gambling addiction is real and it affects a lot of people. It isn't because someone is prone to becoming addicted, but because researchers have identified how our brains work and how we react from rewards. When we allow our children to play freemium games, we are essentially letting them sit down at a slot machine or letting them gamble at a craps table. The effect that this could have on their brains and personalities is still unknown because research on gambling psychology hasn't been conducted on children yet as far as I know.

    *edit. While I used clash of clans as an example, you could find the same psychological principals in just about every freemium game on the app store.
     
  2. Atomic Walrus macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2012
    #2
    I apologize for responding to your very thorough analysis with two sentences, but I just wanted to say: I couldn't agree more. The freemium model is a disgusting example of behavioral manipulation that has consequences even for people who don't use the software (it breaks the app store pricing model).

    Funny example: Fallout Shelter, which is maybe not as guilty as some other games because it's at least fully playable without buying anything, actually uses real casino noises for success/failure events and opening IAP packages (of course they give you some to start). This seems on theme if you recall Fallout New Vegas, but Fallout 4 (which is the tie in product) has none of the gambling themes because it takes place around the Boston area.
     
  3. mac666er macrumors regular

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    San Francisco, CA
    #3
    You shouldn't be flamed. Have some hope, there are some readers here still with brains. :)

    I just want to point out this is not an opinion, these are facts. No one can or can't disagree with them more than agreeing to the sky being blue.
     
  4. Ledgem macrumors 65816

    Ledgem

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    #4
    I agree, and I don't think anyone would disagree with your main points... but I disagree that it's purely a matter of companies being greedy. Part of the problem is a lack of demos on the App Store. Is anyone going to buy an incredible application or game priced at $40? Probably not, especially when there are dozens of others that are "free" to choose from. Being free gets the application onto your device and may even get you using it, and from there it's a matter of getting the user invested enough to feel that they should spend money. Even if a company doesn't want to use that business model, it's unlikely that they'd be able to make it doing anything else.

    Another issue is the reality of how people use their portable devices. While some people may game or do extended work on their iOS devices, many expect to do things in fairly short bursts. An amazing application of game that justifies the $40 price point probably won't get too much attention just because it's the wrong device type and usage pattern to really appreciate a work like that, as compared with the games that are seemingly designed to be played in short bursts.
     
  5. Ahonen macrumors 6502

    Ahonen

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    Aug 15, 2012
    #5
    I used to play Clash of Clans the but I never spent a penny. Finally I got to a point where if I did not start buying gems, I would be waiting 10-14 days to improve my town, defenses, or army. I refused to fall for that and just uninstalled in. I play no freemium games at all. I think they are the scourge of iOS.
     
  6. haruhiko macrumors 68040

    haruhiko

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    Sep 29, 2009
    #6
    I remember once Steve Jobs said, free game must stay free, and did not allow IAP until iOS 3 or 4. Maybe Eddy Cue again persuaded Jobs to accept doing that due to the huge financial reward to Apple.

    The problem with the App Store is the race to the bottom and lack of free trials. Free apps encourage people to try the apps or games. If you're searching for an app and have completely no idea of which one is good, which one will you try first? Yes, the free ones.

    Some parents just use these freemium games as a digital pacifier/dummy to stop their kid from making noise.
     
  7. fitshaced macrumors 68000

    fitshaced

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2011
    #7
    As bad as they are, it's pretty easy to avoid most of it. Don't buy any game that has in app purchases. Apple have obviously made it a bit easier in recent updates to the app store. Previously you had to click on the game and scroll down to see if they were an ip app purchase game or not. Most games on IOS are not worth the finger tap anyway. There are some such as 'The Room' and that series but IOS is not a great gaming platform.

    If your concern is parents who are not aware of these things, they need to be educated on how to lock this down and not allow their kids to make these purchases.

    Anyway, if the future of gaming is in app purchases or micro transactions, then let it be what it is. Don't buy games. The kids with top rank on Call of Duty will probably smash you every time with or without the best gear anyway.
     
  8. Tikatika macrumors 6502

    Tikatika

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    #8
    Beautifully written! You speak the truth and do it really well. My compliments.
     
  9. ZBoater macrumors G3

    ZBoater

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    #9
    I'll flame you.

    No one made you get the game in the first place. Grow a pair and take responsibility for your actions.
     
  10. Abazigal macrumors 604

    Abazigal

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    Jul 18, 2011
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    Singapore
    #10
    I have come to hate most freemium games with a passion, but I don't see how this is Apple's fault. It's a free market, and I feel that freemium games are as viable a business model as any other alternative. The market has spoken, and decided that for some reason, they would rather download a free game, then proceed to spend hundreds of dollars on it vs simply paying a small, 1-time payment for a app of much higher quality.

    The latest game to do that route is Warhammer: Freeblade, which incidentally, was the game demoed during the iPhone 6S keynote. Excellent graphics and nice gameplay, but what wasn't mentioned were the timers, resources and upgrades that often got in your way and tried to make you pay more just to continue playing.

    The consumers have dug this hole for themselves, and really, we are simply reaping what we have sown.
     
  11. Poochi macrumors 6502a

    Poochi

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    Toronto
    #11
    I have spent a total of $0 on IAP.

    It's called self-control, and realization that "winning" in those games do not matter.
     
  12. Ledgem macrumors 65816

    Ledgem

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    #12
    I think these posts miss the point. A lot of freemium games would be pretty good games... but they nickel and dime you to keep playing or to advance farther (unless you want to spend hours upon hours just grinding). There's no choice about it, either. A lot of us would be perfectly happy to spend $40-60 for a good game, the way it used to be. But it's not like there's a choice; there's no pre-paid version to offset the freemium version. Most games these days are based around the freemium model. If you don't like it then sure, don't play, but unfortunately there aren't many non-freemium games to choose from.

    I don't think the original poster was bemoaning the existence of freemium games so much as the fact that the majority of modern games are made around this business model.
     
  13. Poochi macrumors 6502a

    Poochi

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    #13
    I used to buy paid games, but no more, and here's why
    1. developers abandoned those paid games before I felt I got my money's worth (either altogether, or released a "new version" that requires payment again/or turned into freemium)
    2. too many paid games turn out to be dud and shallow
    3. paid full price for a game and next day it went on sales for $0.99 /or even free
     
  14. ZBoater macrumors G3

    ZBoater

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    #14
    No, they don't. There are plenty of non-freemium games. And even if there wasn't any, then put the iPad down. There is no excuse for lack of self control.
     
  15. macguy360 thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #15
    You miss the point entirely Zboater, but I can't blame you, because I have seen your other posts and you vehemently defend Apple as if its your religion.

    The purpose of my post was to bring to light how freemium games are designed using techniques that have been researched in behavior addiction research. Have you read anything about Pavlov? There is a reason why children aren't allowed to gamble in casinos. There is a reason why most states do not allow gambling in their state. Yet with the rapid change in technology, we now have "freemium" games designed similarly to casino games and they are available to anyone to play in any state in our country. Even worse is that children with access to iOS devices are mostly playing these "freemium" games because it doesn't cost anything to download.

    In 2014, Supercell brought in around $5.15 million a day from Clash of Clans... a "free" game. What are the implications for millions of children and adults playing games built with designs based on behavior research? Could we see a huge rise in "freemium" addiction similar to that of gambling addiction?

    I think that no one has realized the implications and I am surprised that the government hasn't stepped in to stop companies from making these types of games.

    But sure, you could make a personal attack on me regarding my post about freemium games in general and how I "don't have a pair" because I am bringing this topic to light.
     
  16. ZBoater macrumors G3

    ZBoater

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    #16
    Sure, now we need the government to step in (sigh).

    It'd be better if you just grew a pair. "Personal responsibility". Google it.
     
  17. b0fh666 macrumors 6502a

    b0fh666

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    #17
    there is also something called IAP cracker, to add insult to injury.
     
  18. macguy360 thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #18
    So you're saying that the people of the 45 some odd states that don't allow gambling should just "grow a pair". Good come back. I spent a lot of time writing my original post and actually made connections between these freemium apps and research that is well documented regarding behavior addiction. You're response is not only ignorant, but narrow minded and daft. If you have anything tangible to bring to the conversation in the form of a counter-argument then do so, but keep personal insults out of this.
     
  19. fitshaced macrumors 68000

    fitshaced

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    #19
    Your original post simply pointed to common sense. Gambling is addictive, we know. Rewards in games are similar to gambling. The answer is not to get the government involved. It's to let the people make their own decisions from which some will be mistakes. We don't need protection from the Clash of Clans.
     
  20. ZBoater macrumors G3

    ZBoater

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    #20
     

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  21. Jessica Lares macrumors G3

    Jessica Lares

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    #21
    It's not just limited to children either. My mother has been throwing money away to these games for four years now. :(
     

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