Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, August 31, 2022
Mobile games are getting "better"

I have been spending more time lately playing games on my iPad, and not on my PC or Switch. One reason for that is that I have the impression that mobile games have been getting "better". Why "better" in quotes? Because I think what has been getting better is production quality and gameplay. What hasn't improved at all is monetization.

Now there are hundreds of thousands of mobile games, so I am talking trends here, and there are always games that are outliers. There are still mobile games you buy once for $6.99 and that don't have any in-app purchases at all. And shoutout to Octopath Traveler: Champions of the Continent for inventing a gacha system for which it is pretty much useless to spend money.

But a more common example would be a game like Warhammer 40,000: Tacticus. On the one side, Tacticus is a much better game than let's say Raid Shadow Legends, because in Tacticus there are actual tactical battles with a hex grid and tactical decisions that matter. On the other side, Tacticus has the same underlying gacha system as Raid Shadow Legends: Unlike Octopath COTC, you don't get to choose where you want to go and what you want to fight. Instead there are linear campaigns. And regardless where exactly your skill level is, the difficulty of the campaign ramps up faster than the power of your characters does from normal play. So at one point you are too weak to beat the next chapter. And then you have the choice of either a very slow grind of repeating old content, or paying money for lootboxes which might or might not contain the new character or added resource you need to overcome the challenge. Only that if you overcome this challenge, you'll be stuck again some chapters down the road.

Having said that, obviously I prefer gacha games with good gameplay to gacha games with auto-battles. And then it becomes a question of self-control: Most of these games have a few options where a limited amount of spending money is opening up a relatively large part of the game for you, compared to a completely free player. I have a rough "dollar per hour" rule, where I really don't mind to spend about a dollar for each hour that a game is keeping me well entertained. If I play Tacticus for 20 or so hours and have spent around $20 for it, that is fine with me. But I am aware that this is a curve with strongly diminishing returns, the next $20 wouldn't buy me as much more game as the first $20 did. And yes, it happens that for a game like that I impulse-buy some offer for $50 and then regret that decision later. 

What doesn't happen to me is getting anywhere close to whale territory. And that is where I think these games can get really problematic: The upper limit to what you could spend on a game is often in the thousands of dollars, and no video game should cost that much. I would go as far as to say that even if the person who spent those thousands of dollars can easily afford the expense, he is getting scammed. Technically, especially on the iOS system, in which Apple controls everything, it would be perfectly feasible to implement a spending limit of let's say $100 per month for any given game. A similar system already exists for parents who want to set a monthly allowance for their kids on the app store. For me that sounds like a much better solution than a blanket ban on loot boxes like Belgium has.

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