Before Zynga’s value fell through the floor, they built on an entire company on selling virtual items in games that were free to play. If you wanted to make those crops come up or complete structures faster, you could enlist your credit card to make your dreams come true. Their model wasn’t anything new, companies out of Korea and Japan had perfected the model years before, but Zynga was a star because they were the first American company to ‘get it’ and apply their lessons to up-and-coming startup Facebook. These free to play games have proliferated but still attract a weird aura because of their intrusive begging for your dollars. So why do they do it? Because, otherwise, you won’t buy anything.
Believe it or not, games from Zynga or action titles like Dead Trigger are as successful as they are because they constantly remind you that you’re able to spend currency to advance your game. A recent story at The Verge details one of many new tales of freemium games – free games that include in-app purchases, or IAPs – that fail financially despite sporting over half a million downloads. Punch Quest released for iOS last week and despite the incredible attention, has only grossed $10,000. The developer’s best guess? They didn’t make their IAP options easily available. But that’s not the only issue: these freemium game developers also need to balance difficulty, to incentivize these purchases. Back in August, Ben Kuchera over at the Penny Arcade Report reported on Gasketball, a comical version of H.O.R.S.E. that allowed you to build crazy environments to set up crazy shots in. Not only could people not figure out how to access the IAP menu to purchase the full version of the game, but the free version gave away too much content.
While Zynga is suffering from its own problems, these are stories from people working out of their parents’ homes and not making any money on their games. That’s why free to play games are so bloody annoying about their in-game purchases.