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How to introduce your paywall, and how Stan Lee's Hero Command fails it


Roppongi, Tokyo, 3AM. You've spent a delightful evening drinking, dancing and enjoying the capital of neon lights with a smoking hot Japanese beauty who is, frankly, what they call "Punching way, way above your weight." Just as you're thinking about how to broach the subject of going back to her place, she turns to you and hands you a bill for her services. Well, as Chop Chop Master Onion is fond of saying, "OMEDETOU AND CONGRATURATION!" You've just become the victim of the Tokyo Hostess scam.

That's a chilling view into the nightmare future of freemium games, because the SECOND they figure out how to legally make a game say "Hi! We notice you've been playing for five hours. We'll just bill that for you now," THAT IS DEFINITELY WHAT THEY WILL ALL DO. 

The monsters aren't real. Stan Lee is old.

In the meantime, freemium games have to take a more subtle approach to keeping you playing the game, an experience during which you may have a few drinks and spend fifty dollars in a moment of weakness buying Lava Hounds so you show off to your clan, giving yourself the flimsy excuse "Sod it, it's my birthday next month."

You know, just to pull a random hypothetical example off the top of my head. 

Clash of Clans is in the god tier when it comes to monetising the product. The process begins with the developer making an excellent game that everybody loves to play and ends with them being completely up front about the fact that while our is perfectly possible to play for free, you'll be years behind when it comes to competing with people who paid for all five builders. 

Watch an episode of Heartbeat to continue. Stan Lee is old.

The second approach you can take is the "Nickel and dime them to death" trick. This involves making progress in the game a huge, huge deal and paying to push you across that fence and into the next field cost practically nothing.

The nice way to do this is the way Boom Beach does. The satisfaction and rewards associated with the game are enormous, but the difficulty involved is steep. If you're loving shelling the shit out of your opponents with bazookas, imagine how sweet it's going to feel with TANKS. That's worth a few dollars,  isn't it? And it REALLY is.

The evil way to do this is the Candy Crush way - by putting an obstacle in the player's path which infuriates them until they'll fellate an elderly hobo to get it gone and bring their blood pressure back into acceptable numbers.

Note that neither of these REQUIRE a payment. Ahhh, the soft hard sell.

Then there's the tactic beloved of dealers everywhere,  the "The first hit's always free" gambit. Dungeon Boss lets you play for a good hour before the energy system kicks in, Taichi Panda had a tutorial section longer than some indie games, and both games end up with you caught in the net of a complex, involved game and having to wait for your next turn, pay up or walk away from a big investment of time and mental energy.

What all of these approaches have in common is that they recognise that is beneficial to you to keep people in the game as long as possible before you cough politely and hold out your hand. A game is not like a pub. If you suspect someone is just in there to get out of the rain, you don't have to chase them out for fear of them scaring off the paying patrons. It's all about giving them as much happy as possible so that they'll WANT to pay up to get more, not gasping in horror at the idea that they might get ONE SECOND more gameplay than they've actually paid for. 

This is why Stan Lee's Hero Command frustrates me so much. I want to love it. It's a silly, fun, charming little Dungeon crawler that I would really enjoy sitting down with four hours. But the little fucker JUST... WON'T... LET... ME... IN!

Stan Lee became famous by saying this fifty years ago. Stan Lee is old.

SLHC employs an energy system which allows you between three and five goes. Each map takes between one and two minutes to run, meaning you get five to ten minutes before you have to pay up. If not, you're looking at a wait of nearly two hours.

It's a shame. It's a real shame, because while it's not Diablo 3, it's a well made little time waster with lots a charm. It's perfectly built for casual, and it's baffling that it drops such a vicious paywall on the player right out of the gate.

I'd like to follow it. I'd like to see it expanded. I'd like to see multiplayer instances,  PvP, new characters... I'd like to see all that good stuff. Whether or not out ever happens,  though, I'll never get to see it because I just can't engage with a game that only allows me in for five minutes at a stretch. 

Learn from this, developers. Don't make a game that screams "PAY UP OR GET OUT" at the player. At least pretend that the game is happy to have us there, because then we'll be happy to be there. Until then, we won't be happy to give you our money. 

My gameplay video, in which Stan Lee gets stuck in the scenery and requires two staff members and a hoist to get him out. Stan Lee is old.

FULL DISCLOSURE: A "Tokyo Hostess" is basically a prostitute who doesn't have to have sex with the client. Although some choose to. Which is fine! Not my thing, though. Have you ever heard the Japanese have sex? Last time I tried to watch Japanese porn, a SWAT team knocked down my door because they thought a woman was being abused.*

In fairness,  it was a video of a woman being abused. Consensually! Well, I assume it was consensually. It looked consensual.**

** It really, REALLY didnt look consensual.

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About Dalek Sexone of us since 3:11 PM on 02.27.2013

Z list internet comic. I have worked on stuff for podcasts like What A Fool Believes, We Are The Lolocaust, The Monday Movie Show and The Gamescast. I named myself while I was blogging for Tachyon TV. There is a Dr. Who character called "Dalek Sec," only I made it a penis joke. Witty.

I have a Youtube channel where I play terrible mobile games. Sometimes I write and sing funny songs, like the Tailspin theme I rewrote to be about Jonathan Holmes.

Every print magazine and most of the websites I have ever written for have collapsed pyrotechnically within months, making me the Typhoid Mary of games journalism.

I used to write and manage the front page of Encyclopedia Dramatica when it was still good (pre-2008).

I got fired from NTSC-UK once.