I used to avoid free to play mobile games just because they were free to play. Most of the titles I had tried was pay to play and unless you paid up, the game played very differently. Cooldowns were days to weeks long and once a game asked me to spend real money on required consumables, I stop playing it. As more free to play titles were released with the model changing and for many games, improving, I picked up a few more free to play games and stumbled over some that I really enjoyed without spending any money.
Enjoying a free to play mobile game required a different mindset. Premium games have engrained a certain play style in me. I prefer playing in long sessions clustered together. Complex controls are hard to learn and if I stop playing for more than a week, I forget how to play, I loose the urgency of the plot and I am less likely to feel any incentive for going back to it until enough time has passed that it is easy to just start from the beginning again. Free to play (mobile) games tend to have the opposite effect. Recently, I have been playing Puzzle Craft and Plants vs Zombies 2. Both become repetitive very quickly when I try to play for longer periods of time, but they are perfect pick-up-and-play games that fill a few empty minutes. I no longer need to find multiple hour long slots dedicated to gaming, I can play whilst I wait for the kettle to boil, queueing at the supermarket, whilst my toddler watches a five minute children’s episode. The free to play model works very well for infrequent short sessions.
At times I wished PvZ2 wasn’t a free to play game. To unlock the second section required 15 stars and I was only able to start collecting stars when I had completed all the maps on that level. To collect stars, I had to replay maps and meet certain requirements, usually spend only x amount of sun, plant only x number of plants, don’t plant anything for x amount of seconds etc. It broke the flow of progression for me, but 15 stars were quite easy to collect. On completing the second level, I needed 30 starts to unlock the third section. Harder to do, but this is the point where I started playing in short sessions and I no longer felt any frustration.
Mobile freemium games seem to rely on me making one of two decisions – spend money or play less often. I rarely spend money at in-game stores to either speed up the game or unlock content. As a result, my first play session is usually the longest. I play on and off until I hit the first bump in the road, but instead of feeling frustrated or compelled to spend money to continue to play, I switch to a different game or activity and only if the game is really good, will I actually return to it at all. Most free to play mobile games never last more than that first play session, but as I hadn’t invested any money or much time in it, I never give it a second thought.
I haven’t played many free to play games with an enticing plot. Designed for short, infrequent sessions, plot is not something that features high on the priority list. As I play increasingly more on mobile devices and as many of the low price titles also use the free to play model, I have started to notice that I miss gaming. I think back nostalgically about the month I spent playing Fable 3 and the Halloween afternoon I dedicated to Costume Quest and a chocolate Yule log.
Free to play mobile games are accessible. They can be played anywhere, require no financial investment and little time. There are no complicated controls, no intricate plot and I find myself not really making the effort to commit to a bigger, potentially more meaningful experience. I think I am missing out on some great experiences. I never needed to schedule time for gaming, but maybe it’s time that I start doing so.