In the world of smartphones, free is the new 99-cents. Developers are figuring out that with in-app purchases, advertising and the basic lure of no overhead cost that they are able to make far more money in the long run by selling a game for, well, $0. It also helps combat piracy because a game that is complete at 99 cents can be stolen, a game that is free and requires bought unlocks from an online server cannot. On the Android, where piracy is a much bigger issue, free to play has effectively solved the problem. The only catch is that the solutions are usually pretty poor for the consumer. As the Vita travels into this territory we are given a glimpse at the good and bad of free games. Motorstorm: RC does just about everything as right as you can expect of a free game, while Treasures of Montezuma: Blitz is the epitome of what is so frustrating with them.
Montezuma, at its core, is a Bejeweled Blitz clone. It’s a basic match 3; you have 1 minute to play, your score is posted to a leaderboard (which can be sorted by friends)… and then the leaderboard is wiped weekly so you can do it all over again. This type of leaderboard chase is a lot of fun; I’ve dumped 10s (if not 100s) of hours into Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook over the last couple years. The actual board mechanics aren’t as smooth in Montezuma, something that’s odd given that in general I find the Vita touchscreen to be superior to both my iPad and iPhone. But it does the job well enough – it’s certainly playable.
The problems with Montezuma Blitz pop up in the for-pay mechanics. The game uses a gem system for just about everything from buying power-ups to actually playing a round. I burned through my initial allotment of gems pretty quickly – on day two, I believe. You make some each game – typically 2-20, but it costs 200 per game, so that’s not effective in the slightest. Once you run out you have two options: win some from the daily scratch-off game, or buy them.
Buying them wouldn’t be such a big deal if you could just buy the ability to never again had to worry about paying for gems to play, but you can’t – and that’s why this game is devious garbage. You pay $5 now to get a handful of gems, but you’ll eventually run out again, and then you’ll have to pony up more. If Bejeweled Blitz used this model and I paid (and to be clear: I never would – and I never will to ToM:B) I would easily have spent THOUSANDS of dollars by now. That is fucking mental.
And it’s not just gems that are for sale. You can buy scratch cards for 99 cents a piece if you like. You also have heart containers that empty as you play and slowly refill. If you’re completely impatient you can pay to fill them immediately. The whole thing is designed to extract as much money out of someone hopelessly addicted as humanly possible. Whatever – good for them. Make money off the weak. But what it means for the rest of us is that the game is basically unplayable.
Motorstorm: RC on the other hand is free because of in-game advertising by some car company. Honestly, I can’t even remember the name of the car right now. I can see what it looks like in my head – but I can’t remember the name. Scion! I think that’s it. I have no idea who makes it. Or is Scion a car maker? I’m not really sure.
All of my confusion points to how non-intrusive the advertising is in Motorstorm: RC. There is a splash screen advertisement that you see when the game loads, and it’s done in the art style of the game so it’s not jarring or annoying. The car itself is one of the RC cars in the game as well so you can see it in 3D. I have no idea what the people behind Scion paid for this but if it was reasonable and this is a business model that can sustain itself I hope we see more of it… because I got Motorstorm: RC for free, and this game is pretty rad.
As you may have guessed from the title it’s an RC game, a sharp departure from the PS3 franchise. The settings of the tracks are taken from the three PS3 games and one PSP game as well, though the tracks themselves are my biggest complaint with the game. They are technical what-you-may-see-in-real-life RC tracks, which may be fun for some, but I want more jumps and dirt and banks and crazy stuff. The tracks are usually just a series of S curves, a long straight with a jump and that’s about it. It’s very tame design.
Controlling your RC is finicky, but in a fairly realistic way, and you get used to it. The graphics are solid and the game is definitely a lot of fun. It also has a ton of asynchronous aspects with ghosts of your friends and leaderboards on everything. It’s a rather large game as well – so large, in fact, that it contains a platinum trophy. The PS3 version costs $10, and the PSBlog alluded to the fact that it won’t be free forever on the Vita, but even at $10 I would say it’s worth it.
Besides, whatever payola they got from the Scion-ites, Evolution and Sony are also making their money with the DLC train, but are doing it in a very unobtrusive way. All of the RCs in a given class control the same, so hopping onto the store and spending 50 cents or 99 cents for a new one doesn’t give the advantage to the person with the most money. They also have released two DLC track packs so far, both modestly priced, and while I find Pro-Am’s tracks to be much more creative (it takes place in a skate park!) than Carnival (it totally does not take place in a carnival, as far as I can tell) they are both worth the couple extra bucks to keep the game fresh. I plunked down for both of them and don’t have a single regret about it.
So there you have it – a free game that is basically unplayable without money versus a free game that is so good and fun that you WANT to give them money. This is how the battle lines are being drawn and as a customer I have a feeling I can speak for nearly everyone when I say we prefer it the Motorstorm way. My only fear is that the ugly, devious way that Montezuma Blitz is going about it will actually make them more money – which means that what we want won’t matter a single iota to publishers looking to bolster their bottom line.
Treasures of Montezuma Blitz———————————————————————————–Motorstorm: RC