Developers need to know they can do better than Freemium on Android, and users need to start communicating that.
After three whole days of behaving myself and not getting lost in another game, I installed Alto's Adventure and Final Fantasy IX. Just hearing the opening music in Final Fantasy IX brought me back to my teens, and with everyone around me talking about how good Alto's Adventure was I knew I couldn't ignore it for long. Both of these games were going to suck up not only my weekend, but a significant portion of the next week if history was any indicator. These two games appeal to wildly different parts of my as a gamer — Alto's Adventure satisfies that quick taste in between tasks, and Final Fantasy IX offers a story I can dive into and think about at length.
There's another significant difference between these two games, one that I can't ignore anymore. Final Fantasy IX is $16.99, and Alto's Adventure is free with a bunch of in-game money grabs and ads. Guess which one I uninstalled first?
As a huge fan of Ski Safari who was massively let down by all of the in-game ads and money grabs in Ski Safari 2, I would gladly pay $10 for Alto's Adventure. It's beautiful, challenging, and there's a clear path for growth that would have me playing this game in grocery lines and while waiting for my kids to get out of school every day for weeks. If you're on iOS, the game will run you $2.99 and drops all of the "watch this video" things that actively pull you out of the game so the developer can make a few pennies. On Android, that option doesn't exist, not even as an unlock for those who would rather just pay for a good game.
Freemium business models are hardly a new thing, and the folks at Snowman can hardly be blamed for thinking that business model was the best way for Alto's Adventure to be successful on Android. It's also worth pointing out that their implementation is one of the least obnoxious out there today. The problem in this situation is absolutely the users, and the weird perception issues surrounding the value of digital content on Android. If you look at the Play Store, $4.99 is the high end for games and anything above that is either highly criticized if it's not absolutely flawless. Even when a game is exceptional at $4.99, piracy is a constant issue game developers have to deal with.
Everything can't be Candy Crush Saga, and users are going to find themselves stuck between demanding the gaming experience found on competing platforms and paying for the privilege.
This is an onboxious part of reality now, but it's unsustainable. We're already seeing many developers in the Oculus Store push the price of their games to $10 and higher to handle the added costs associated with developing for VR, and while Google Cardboard has done well as a passive VR experience we know that isn't going to last. The next year of gaming in particular on Android is going to include several exciting new technologies. We're going to see new experiences with and without a VR headset, and the Freemium model can't be the default in those situations. Everything can't be Candy Crush Saga, and users are going to find themselves stuck between demanding the gaming experience found on competing platforms and paying for the privilege.
None of this is to say that games are good just because they cost more. In fact, one of the major concerns I had about installing Final Fantasy IX was what a terrible experience I'd had with Crystal Chronicles on a tablet after it had first been released. Square Enix is banking on their name being enough to ask the amount they ask for games, and that's simply not the case when the end result is a poorly optimized port. There's also nothing wrong with a good game being free with ads or $0.99 if the developer can pull it off. The biggest problem is sacrificing quality or experience because you think the game will be pirated or left behind otherwise.
It's time to embrace $10 games on Android. We're quickly reaching a point where new technology is going to demand a greater expense for a better product, and there's no reason any game developer that creates something to entertain you for 2+ hours a week for months is considered less valuable than whatever you had for lunch today. Give some though to what stops you from tapping the buy button on something that costs more the $5 in the Google Play Store, and share those thoughts in the comments below.