#Thursdaythoughts: Babysitting a Computer Game

The face of the computer gaming/app landscape has changed so much in the last five years or more that it’s almost unrecognizable from where it started. The thing I hate the most, the pay to play game/app. These games are advertised as “free” to play. You can download them and get involved right away, no purchase required!

Oh, the lie it is. When you get into the game, there they are, all the micro-transactions, the movements limited by an energy bar or even worse, “this is actually a timed demo.” (Then label it a demo!) My favorite types of games have been hit by these micro-transaction, pay to play models the most. I love building cities. I love raising animals. I like MMORpgs. And there are lots of these types of games on the internet.

All these tiny little studios creating carbon copy variations of the same game with different ‘skins.’ (Horse Park Tycoon, Pony Park Tycoon, Cat Park Tycoon.) Then you can pay $.99 to get rid of adds. Pay more money for special currency to buy special horses that give more bonuses! Pay to make things build faster. Pay to get a bunch of food.

And to a certain extent, I can ignore the micro-transactions. What I can’t ignore is that in order to justify these micro-transactions they’ve had to fundamentally change the way these games are structured. I’m going to sound old and cranky here for a few minutes. Computer games when they first came out were something that you came home from work or school, you played them for a few hours (this was before WoW mind you) and then you had dinner or watched television or even changed computer games and played that for another few hours.

Games today, you baby sit. If you want to grow an item of food in a computer game app today, the first few “levels” of food will be reasonable times, 5min, 10min, 15min. By then, they’ve got you hooked on the game (or so they hope.) But in order to progress in the game and get to the next level or fill requests and orders, the food growth times start increasing to 1hour, 2hours, 12hours, 24 hours. Okay, you’re going, sure, there is strategy involved and you can use water and fertilizer and pesticides and such to lower the time it takes to grow. (If you can make or access these things without paying more real money.) Or you can pay real money and have it grow faster. However, it still takes more than 5 minutes to grow. You end up babysitting, or closing out the game, and going to do something else because there’s nothing to do in the game for more than five minutes of harvesting what you’ve grown and planting the crops and then leaving.

Instead of having a few fun hours playing a game, you’re baby sitting a game. And sure, you can put hundreds of dollars into a game to make everything go faster, get the coolest items, expand your map or whatever. (Be the baddest gamer in the history of the game I guess.) Now, you’re just out of a bunch of money. I mean, wouldn’t it be better to spend twenty bucks on a game you can spend hours in doing stuff, rather than spend hundreds of dollars on a game in order to do that stuff in the same time frame?

Not to mention, there is no idea where that money goes, especially if the company folds. And a lot of these little game developers fold but somehow their game is still on the internet. To make matters worse, you can put money into one of these cute little “Free” apps because the game company is promising to expand it, only for them to stop developing that game and go on to develop new games (of the exact same type) or expand other games. I’d rather know where my money is actually going.

Now, with owning a full game it doesn’t matter if Sierra folded, as long as my computer can play the program, I have that program and the full content of that program.

(And just think how awful this whole pay to play and be the biggest baddest gamer gets on a sandbox MMO or citybuilder style game whose primary purpose is a ‘war game’ player versus player with absolutely no option for players to play versus the environment. That is a power gamers’ paradise. Get in early or don’t get in at all.)

Making a game is not a ‘get rich quick’ scheme. For every player that pays for premium content of your game, there are going to be ten players who refuse to pay at all. (The same with blog websites.) Those ten players are still taking server resources if your game is on the internet. It still costs the company money to host them in the scant hope that they’ll pay for something. (This is the risk that MMOs make too. And why in the beginning games like WoW and Guild Wars didn’t really offer a demo period. You played on someone else’s account if you were nervous about putting down 60 bucks and/or a subscription to the game.) Then there are gaming companies that have you pay for the game and still litter it with micro-transactions everywhere. I paid for a full game. Not to pay and pay and pay again. (Subscriptions are different because those go to defray the costs of running servers.)

Unfortunately, games like the original Star Craft and Caesar IV have stopped working on our current versions of Windows. And I know that Blizzard is focused on making MMOs for the most part and I think Sierra went under or was bought out.

Oh well. I means that I’ll be playing less games. (Mainly because no one has come up with a combo of a city builder and horse riding game yet that actually has different skins and let’s you choose where to put your own buildings. I would pay for something like that. And yeah. I am not a game dev. I am not a game dev. Ugh. I so wanted to be a game dev when I was a teenager. I blame playing Myst and watching the how to videos.)

Anyways, it is the National Day of Prayer and Star Wars Day. I’m sure this means something. May the Force be with all of you, whatever or whoever the Force means to you!

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