Tag Archives: iOS

Free-to-Play Games Quietly Got Good

Free-to-play games, particularly in the mobile gaming sector, have something of a… reputation, to put it politely. And it’s not altogether undeserved.

Mobile development has a cloning problem. And not just in the literal sense of developers stealing assets from competitors’ games to create bootleg versions: there’s also a major problem with free-to-play mobile game developers taking the “easy” option and simply reskinning tried-and-tested mechanics and systems rather than attempting to innovate with their gameplay.

It was ever thus in the games business, of course — that’s one of the ways in which genres of games developed over time — but in mobile gaming, it always seems particularly egregious, because in many cases those base mechanics and systems simply aren’t very much fun in the first place, focusing not on how to give the player an enjoyable experience, but rather on how to extract money out of them at every opportunity.

But gradually, quietly, we’ve started to see changes. While Western free-to-play game developers are still seemingly mostly content with FarmVille-style “tap and wait” gameplay, looking East to Asian teams from Korea, Singapore, Japan and numerous other territories reveals an altogether different picture: free-to-play games that actually make a bit of an effort with the “game” part. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

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Collectible Card Crusade

A couple of years back, my main gig was reviewing free-to-play mobile and social games from a business perspective. This proved to be something of an eye-opening experience.

One of the things I discovered during this period of my career was the astronomical popularity of a type of mobile game collectively known as “card-battlers”. Distinct from more traditional card games like Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering, mobile card-battlers are usually of Eastern origin — they’re particularly popular in their native countries — and are one of those breeds of mobile games that have lots of people making them, but very few people genuinely innovating in them. In other words, most of them are almost identical save for the artwork on the virtual cards you collect throughout the game.

Moreover, a lot of them are extremely unpolished affairs, their ’90s website-esque user interfaces, frequent lack of sound and music, reliance on data connections and excruciatingly slow loading times a clear hangover from the feature phone era. So why, why, why on Earth are these games so popular? And is there any redeeming value in them whatsoever?

Only one way to find out.

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