Freemium, Ngmoco and More…

So for those that follow me on my blog or Twitter, you know that I used to be pretty passionate about my iPhone game, We Rule.  And then We City came out and I was even more happy.  Well, it has come to an end, perhaps slightly bitter.

tl;dr: I am quitting We Games.  Also, post is a very long read, but hopefully interesting.  You have been warned ;).

So about six months ago, I had an iPod touch 3rd Gen, some time to waste and an experiment in mind.  For a while, I had been exposed to a few games considered “Freemium” games.  Basic definition was a free to play game, but if you wanted the best “experience”, you had to pay $$.  Somewhat controversial style of game as many customers consider this a type of game that only greedy companies develop.  Which you can’t blame the customers.  Instead of a one-time fee that typical games cost, Freemium games have ongoing payment options for in-game items and almost in a way, they feel like subscription charges, just 10X more expensive.  This of course depends on how you want to play your game and the type of game.  It is very easy to see why Farmville and We Rule are considered such profitable games with the constant release of new buildings and objects to spend $$ on, it could be considered the Gold Mine of gaming.  Or so companies are hoping for this. Especially Streetview Labs who have 6+ Freemium games based on the same engine and design (with only slight graphic changes).

I played quite a number of Freemium-based games on the iPhone.  I also did it as an experiment to see if I would enjoy Freemium or not.  I will admit I’ve spent some $$ on it, but I won’t say how much.  (It wasn’t all that much.)  This was all to see how I gauged the Freemium experience.  To see if it worked or was a giant scam.  From We Rule-Farm-City, to Pocket Frogs and even some vague ones.  I also played both Farm Town and Farmville for a while.  (Not all at the same time mind you).

Ngmoco was acquired by a Japanese company called DeNA.  However, the symptoms of Ngmoco’s business decisions were there before they were bought up.  They used to develop quality games for the iOS, from Rolando, to Eliminate, and Star Defense.  These games instantly setup Ngmoco as a possible leader in video game development on the iOS.  I came in just as Ngmoco released their newest title, We Rule.  I’ll admit, I fell in love with the game.  It was fantasy and “city-building” all in one.  My two favorite genres.  And the game was solid, Ngmoco stuck to their guns about their content being mostly free, with only a few buildings requiring payment.  However, there was one major downside that was becoming slowly apparent.  All crops and building orders have a rather large button to spend Mojo or RL money on speeding up them up and unfortunately, it was not unheard of to constantly hit that button.  I don’t think it just happened to be there, as further We Games didn’t remove or even lock the button to prevent accidental spending.  A very unethical business practice.  I was able to avoid it, so it never really bothered me until later.

Now We Rule had a lot of problems when first released.  No doubt due to the explosion of popularity with its game.  They had server problems, then app problems, then server and so on.  But the game was new, fresh and something that the iPhone hadn’t done yet. So I couldn’t fault them too much.  They also seemed to have a good idea of what they wanted to execute and the content was all very fantasy based, something I really enjoyed.  However, with iOS 4.1 and then 4.2, the excuses from Ngmoco seemed to get weaker and weaker. Until I could no longer excuse the problems they are currently having.  Especially with new competition arriving on the iOS, showing just how far behind Ngmoco is becoming.

Ngmoco seems to have a development temperament of this: Do the basic amount of development required, slap on a lot of ads, don’t care about bugs, crashing or other issues and push it out as soon as possible so we can make the most $$ with least amount of work.

Why do I say this?  Well, I didn’t think such a young and promising company could do this, but their games are starting to go backwards in terms of quality.  Star Wars: Imperial Academy, a joint effort between Ngmoco and THQ used the game engine of Eliminate and put in Star Wars.  Or I should say, just slapped on Star Wars skin.  You would think with a game development base existent, that the “next generation” of a game would be better and more enjoyable.  In fact, its the other way around.  The game suffers from stuttering, audio issues, a bad graphic system, poor animation (tap-dancing Stormtroopers ftw?), and terrible and difficult controls.  I don’t know what went wrong here.  For a game that has been in development for a long time, it feels like a first generation game.  For a company that has been on the iOS system for so long, its quite frankly inexcusable.  We Doodle was also a poorly made game, with crashing, freezing and games that would lock up.  It also had a huge exploit, allowing players to win by just drawing the word without any punishment.  We Rule Quests, the 2.6 version of We Rule suffers from lag, constant ads, crashing and bugs that make your crops skip coin acquirement so that you lose coins, not gain.  The buildings are also getting much more expensive and more exclusive $$-only options have coming in.  Add on the fact that Ngmoco releases content, for content sakes.  No longer fantasy based but with a wide range of bases for We Rule.  Leading to a very mixed up look to the game.  This is also the problem in We Farm and City, which got old.  They could do so much more in the Fantasy genre, but seem to be ignoring it for a reason I can’t determine.  We Rule Quests I might add is the 2nd Gen version of We Rule and yet suffers from many of the same problems that it originally had 6+ months ago.

All these games have one thing in common: Bugs and Crashing.  Which tells me one of two things, either Ngmoco needs to do better Q/A or throw the code out and start all over again.  But with the release of Adventure Bay, Ngmoco is just telling me that they are happy with the status quo.  Short term gains with long term losses.  They are unafraid of dropping support for apps the moment they become unprofitable either.  Remember all those games I mentioned earlier?  They haven’t been updated since iOS3.X.  The company says there is pretty much no chance they’ll be updated either.  Its not really surprising, companies can’t develop for things that don’t make $$, its just a bad business decision.  Eliminate however, did have quite a number of players and could easily have become THE dominant FPS on the iOS.  Instead, they took a step backwards in hopes of cashing in on Lucas’ success.  *sigh*.

Plus+,

“The premium social play network for iPhone, iPod touch & iPad”

Plus+ is such a terrible game social network for a “premium” service.  Its short-sighted, easy to get flawed and buggy.  No ability to message others in anyway, cannot add friends from Twitter or Facebook, a constantly buggy friend system and a whole host of other missing features is deplorable.  If this is a social network, why can’t we socialize Ngmoco?   One of its competitors, OpenFeint easily outstrips this service.  Hint to Ngmoco: Check out what OpenFeint can do, and then drop your “premium” from your tag line.  Its false advertising.  Heck, when GameCenter came to iOS, it showed that Ngmoco is behind the times as Apple gives a much better experience.  With an easier adding of friends, no login required for each GC game, Multiplayer functions for games, and a much tighter feeling to it, Plus+ seems slow and decrepit.  Admittedly, Apple does have the upper hand with its iOS integration.  But that doesn’t excuse the huge lacking of features in Ngmoco’s service.

Apple is about one thing.  Making quality hardware and software work well and look good.  With iTunes, a controlled App Store and some fancy-looking hardware, Apple is well on its way of making this goal work.  Sure, they have flaws, who doesn’t with this level of complexity?  One thing that I am very sure of though, is that many of the apps on the App Store look good, feel good and work very well.  Its just…

We Games seem to be the very opposite of this quality.

As I said before I was very accepting of the flaws and errors with the We Games.  Now, almost a year past since I got my iPod touch 3rd gen and then transitioned to an iPhone 4, We Games have the same flaws that they originally had.  Unacceptable.  While it seems that their servers are now more than able to handle the load, the apps constantly suffer from bugs both app related and game related.  Crashing, disconnects, image corruption, missing items, hacked accounts, laggy realms, friend-list issues are just some of the problems with these games.  On an iPhone 4, that is simply unacceptable.  Especially since its been a year and Ngmoco gave us “upgraded” versions of the game.  With the same problems.   And their response to our inquiries is “sometime in the future”

I had noticed during finals that my interest in them had died.  Despite an attempt over Thanksgiving to play them again, I found myself unable to enjoy them.  I also find myself at odds with Ngmoco’s business decisions surrounding the We Games.  Ever since I deleted the apps from my iPhone, I’ve had far less pointless push notifications, my other games seem to run much smoother and I’ve started enjoying my iPhone again.  A sad commentary on the We Game’s future.

This doesn’t always bother me.  I put up with it in games like Eve Online and Wow because those companies did their best to fix the issues and ensure that their customers got the best experience.  But Ngmoco doesn’t seem to have that same amount of care.  It is truly saddening how such a great company is sooo close to being one of the best companies on the iDevice realm.  Ultimately, I see them being swept aside as more companies come out with bigger and better apps as indicated by Trade Nations and The Smurfs Village Freemium games.  With games that have the Unreal engine, it also shows that the graphic potential of iOS is huge and makes We Games seem behind the times.

Games like Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Cut the Rope and many more have been more successful and profitable than We Games has been, if the Top Grossing Charts of the App Store is any indication.  Ngmoco has only tasted this.  Its a pity that the taste didn’t inspire them to do better, to be better.  Instead, they seem more interested in publishing as many games on the same code as the We Rule game and go backwards in the development cycle.

Am I done with the Freemium experience?  Not entirely but it is unlikely I will pay for another freemium game.  Games like Pocket Frogs are, imho, the best in the Freemium business.  Pocket Frogs doesn’t require you to pay for the game in order to finish it.  Sure, you can spend $$ to speed up your experience, but that’s it. On the whole, Freemium has left a bad taste in my mouth and it will be some time before I step into it again.

If you read this very long blog post, then congrats.  I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t.  I put this out there to hopefully educate people and maybe Ngmoco will read it and take it to heart.  I would love to support them again if they listened to our concerns, but lets face it, I’m one person.

Anyway, I hope everyone has an excellent day!
KingIsaacLinksr

4 Comments:

  1. As you know, I play a couple of the same games. I could never ‘get’ WeCity. Didn’t understand it and couldn’t find any help anywhere online. My WeRule experience has actually been pretty good, though. I enjoy it, and haven’t purchased anything. I also like the addition of quests. I haven’t experienced any of the crashing issues you seem to have. The app runs solidly on my iPad.

    Too many dev houses open and close daily for me to have any sort of loyalty or non-use policy based simply on the name that pops up on the splash screen. Plenty of good devs have pumped out crapware at some point. And some with bad devs manage to get a diamond out the door sometimes.

    I’ll keep playing WeRule until I hit level cap probably. I’ve already deleted WeCity.

    On the point of a game pushing out a game that is just an old game with different graphics, you should compare BethSoft’s “Oblivion” to it’s “Fallout3.” Essentially identical, but VERY successful games.

    KB

    • You do have an iPad so that does help.

      You do make good points. On the Bethesda thing, at least those are good games. Imperial Academy could have been good, but took a step backwards and it blows my mind that anyone at NG thought the game was actually a step up. It only takes a few minutes of play time to see what’s wrong. So I just wonder what’s going on.

      Thanks for the comment :).

  2. I agree with Plus+ I hated that crud.

    As for Eliminate…it’s dead? NOOO!!! I loved that game, I miss my iTouch so much more now.

    It’s sad Ngmoco is getting away with this.

    Like your comment, “If you read this very long blog post, then congrats.” Thank you, it was quite worth the length.

    • Yeah, Eliminate was dropped pretty much when Godfinger came out if I remember correctly. Ngmoco just threw their hands up, saying they didn’t like how they had implemented Eliminate, despite the hundreds of customers still using the game……..fail logic imo.

      Thanks for the comment!

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