It’s finally happened. I’ve been defeated by a mobile game.
Let me clarify – I haven’t been overwhelmed by the skill required to advance through the game. I haven’t been crushed by the difficulty, or shamed by online opponents, or found a game-breaking bug right after a save. No, these are methods by which normal games break me.
This is something different. Something sinister that has been around in casual games for a while, but I’ve only just experienced.
I don’t have enough time…
Not in the sense that I’m too busy, or that the game’s timers are too short. In some perverse inversion, the game has me spending a compulsory time-out when I want to be playing.
The culprit game is Candy Crush Saga. You’ve probably heard of this before, because this is the internet. I’ve played Bejeweled for more hours than I’ve sunk into most MMOs, and I decided that it might be time to find a new match-3 game to stop me from going mad- variety is the spice of life, and all that jazz. Diving into the swamp that is the Google Play store, I stumbled upon Candy Crush and noted the high review score. Costing me exactly zero pennies sealed the deal, and for a few hours I was lost in a sea of bright colours and well-crafted gameplay.
That honeymoon period was brief though. After only a few hours of playtime, I hit the wall. For those of you unfamiliar with this game, I’ll explain what happens. Failing a level loses you a heart from your pool of five. Hearts recharge over time. Lose all five hearts and you have to wait before you can play again. The more hearts that need to be recharged, the longer the wait period between them. For example, the first time you fail, it will take five minutes for you to regain that heart. Lose all five, and the wait to restore just one heart is 30 minutes. Half an hour of waiting to be allowed to have another attempt at a 60-second challenge.
Analogy time – that’s like waiting in the queue at a popular roller-coaster, and having to get off halfway-through to rejoin the queue because you were too busy enjoying yourself to solve the Rubic’s Cube you had been provided. Oh, and you can’t go on any other ride until you’ve done a complete loop on this one. Where are you going? Back to older rides you’ve already completed? No, you have no hearts left. Back of the queue, please.
I spent four days on the same level because of that ridiculous system. What could have been achieved in an afternoon (even if I’d failed the same number of times) was dragged out for over half a week because of that heartless (haha) mechanic. But that’s not all! I’ve yet to mention the way that game handles progressing from one batch of levels to the next. To move on, you can choose to play three randomly generated levels to progress (in my case from level 30-31, I believe.) However, you have to wait a whole freakin’ 24 hours between each of those levels.
Added together, it took me an entire week to progress from level 30 to level 31.
One. Whole. Week.
It’s just insane. I’m sure there are match-3 savants out there who are laughing at me for my ineptitude, but I don’t even care. It’s meant to be casual, for the man-on-the-bus or the bored child. I haven’t been on a train-journey that took me a week to complete, and no kid will be happy if they fail for the 300th time in a row.
You may notice that I said that you can choose to play the three progression challenges. That’s because there is, of course, the option for microtransactions. Pay a little bit of money to get a little more content, rather than spending your time. The microtransactions in Candy Crush Saga seem just a little bit more insidious than most, though. There are options to buy power-ups to use in game to make your life easier, or to unlock levels, or to restore hearts. They’re everywhere, but that’s how these companies make money from their game. Sure, the programme is free, but everything inside has a price-tag attached.
Some of these are insanely priced – up to £25 in some cases for power-ups you can use once per level, and the effects aren’t even that helpful. That’s more money than I’m willing to spend on a brand-new AAA PC release, and they’re asking me to spend it on a crutch that I need to progress? No sale. You will need them to progress, though, oh yes. Candy Crush Saga has a difficulty curve which is damn near vertical. There is the potential there for you to complete levels without the aid of power-ups, but you’ll have to be damn lucky, and damn skilled to pull it off.
The horrible fact is that I quite like microtransactions in free-to-play games. The idea that I can play a game, then pay money towards it based on my enjoyment? Fantastic! I’ve done it in Planetside 2 and in numerous other mobile-games. But making a game where the only real way to make any progress is to buy into it? You haven’t made a game there, in my opinion, you’ve made an interactive cash cow, with little regard to consumer enjoyment. Maybe that’s where the markets of console/PC and mobile gaming differ. In the former, a price-tag is attached to the overall programme, and is essentially a promise on behalf of the developer and publisher that ‘buying this game will net you this much money’s worth of fun’. For mobile gaming, software is free (or negligibly cheap) and seems to say “why are you complaining, we gave you this out of the goodness of our hearts?”
So, I do feel a little bad for this rant. It ain’t worth nothing but it’s free, as a friend used to tell me. But still, an entire week to progress one level is ridiculous, and not in keeping with the casual gameplay that the match-3 genre promotes. What I wanted was something that I could just play on the bus, or while I waited for the dentist, and instead I got a brightly-coloured screen that spent 80% of its time telling me how long it would be until I could play again. And while I was playing it, I wasn’t enjoying it – I ground my teeth and hoped that, maybe this time, I’d be allowed to progress a little further.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to Bejeweled Blitz. I can play a level on that nearly 1440 times a day without paying a penny, and only have to stop because I want to.
Which I don’t.