Zombie pay-for-play?

By | April 8, 2010

I am going to link to a flash game that breaks my heart: Zombie Assault 2 – Insane Asylum.

This is zombie survival with guns and upgradable barriers. I”d rather like to know how the zombies manage to carry cash, and what agency it is that sells you barrier upgrades that you have to fix your own self. But anyway, it”s a rather bog-standard mix of frenetic shooting, base defense, and upgrading your offense and defense to survive upgrading waves of undead. It”s a good formula. The mix this time around is needing cash to add on to the map, to find… well, it”s not the weapons themselves, like I”d expect. It”s an outline of the weapon that lets you buy them from the shop. Like pieces of a picture-menu for a mute customer.

At first glance, it”s a horrid trade-off. You buy, essentially, an increasing number of ways for zombies to enter. Some do not even allow barricades. Fortunately, the undead are stupid and stick with their assigned doors, even walking past an already-smashed barrier to beat upon one that had caught their fancy. The number of undead in each wave is static. These two details mean that you have spread out the zombie problem, so your barriers should last a bit longer. The kitchen and adjacent… porch-y area give vital obstacles to run around, exposing flaws in zombie pathfinding I haven”t needed to exploit since Lode Runner. (look it up, whipper-snappers!)

The undead themselves are a fun mix of speeds, toughness, and special effects. Clowns which are nearly unkillable… save for their own detonations a few seconds after they run near you and root themselves in place. Big beefy meat-cleaver wielders that have a few mutant tapeworms to share with you on their death. And even some demon-y guy who likes to chuck eldritch fire at you. The best bit is that you have some warning. The game”s sound effects include screeches and chilling clown laughs to let you know what a given wave is about to throw at you. But not from which direction… so that you might decide if you are using a good weapon for the upcoming problem.

All that is to the good, believe it or not. Each element listed enhances the experience. Even the pathing issues, as the difficulty is high enough to where exploiting the AI isn”t any guarantee of victory… just a slight edge.

Difficulty, as in all of this class of game, comes from a simple source… you need to buy things, and you don”t know what will help you survive until it”s too late to spend the money elsewhere. As you are spending the exact same cash on expanding your living space that you do on weapons… it becomes even more of a challenge. It is simpler if you know which areas contain which… uh, weapon potentials? Menu items? So you simply do not get to know what”s even available on the first playthru, until you have unlocked the entire map.

You do start off with the ability to buy better barricades tho. Which are repaired to full health instantly, by walking up to one and tapping a key. However… upgrading this to the point where the barriers will damage the zombies that bash them costs as much as the mid-range weapons… and represents the game”s obvious tipping point. If you get the barricades to full, and the map unlocked, you can hold off quite a lot. A sentry gun or two would also make it possible to survive to the endgame.

This is also the point the game appears calibrated to leave slightly out of reach. I”m not saying it”s impossible… there”s bound to be some cryptic range of upgrading and ultimate zombiefighting that allows a human player to survive. But the difficulty of the game… even with health restored between waves, the bulk of players are going to be stymied just short of being able to balance themselves against the ever-steepening difficulty.

Which is where the game promptly decides to break my heart.

You can register yourself with the game”s handlers to unlock a persistant profile, so your XP and character perks don”t go away (the shop and inventory is reset every time tho. Sorry!). And you are given a couple “premium” items for free. Few extra grenades, a rifle that”s quite a bit better than the starter pistol… and this brings you to the bloody shop. Don”t get me wrong. I am not opposed to paying money for a game. Good games are awesome, and worth supporting. This game is playable for free… but you pay to unlock certain… perks. For real cash, you can lower the difficulty of the game. There”s weapons ranging from autoshotguns to proton オンライン カジノ packs. Permanent boosts to damage, armor, health regen, and bonus income from zombie kills. You can buy the whole set of upgrades for $10 or $15 if you”re getting them individually. Clever pricing scheme, since $5 is the minimum, and would give you the most critical upgrades. But for twice the price, you can have it all. Nice marketing.

Now, if they had made this a bit like shareware, so that I were unlocking, say, an end-game boss… I could dig it. The thing that sends me into a bit of disgust is not that they are charging for the games… they are charging for things that lower the difficulty. This disgusts me. Thoroughly.

Some of you don”t need this explained to you, so I”ll try to be brief. Games used to come with a range of difficulty. There would be an easy mode so that you could experience the bulk of the game, but you wouldn”t be trying very hard. There might be a hellfire and brimstone mode where it would take weeks of training to survive the game… maybe in order to get a different ending. The ending wouldn”t really be all that great, but the elation of finally getting there… to no longer be banging your head against a bit wall in a silicon prison… that would give a giddy rush and instant bragging rights. And anyone sane would have long since found that one guy who could beat it, and watch them do it, so they wouldn”t actually have to.

But you didn”t pay money to make the game easier.

MMOs spend countless hours trying to destroy the practice of “Gold Farming”, wherein real money is exchanged for in-game currency, to allow for purchases that the player hasn”t earned. Ostensibly, you are outsourcing the grinding of the game. Frankly, the games are a bit grind-tastic, and like to keep you from having “fun” as much as possible… but the efforts to stop this industry are due to very real issues of in-game inflation (which puts prices so high that new players cannot buy any upgrades with their hard-earned cash) and of the farming activities crowding out “legitimate” gamers from vital resources.

These are beside the point, but I cannot truly express the outrage I feel without giving them as perspective.

The actual practice of requiring a player to spend money on lowering the difficulty level, and increasing fun… goes against good game design. It”s also a hideous business practice. You end up with a paying customer base of gamers who may be obsessive, but certainly do not have the skill it takes to conquer your game without your little perks… so every single customer is going to be ultimately dissatisfied with the experience, because they will know they couldn”t have beaten the game on their own. They are paying to cheat themselves of the very illusion of victory these games use as a reward for playing.

From a business perspective, you are giving yourself customers who will be disillusioned by the very game they bought into… which can”t do future sales much good. From a game designer”s perspective, I look at this and feel that there was a lot of playtesting put into making the difficulty exactly right… so the game will be addicting but impossible without paying, for most customers. The gaming purist in me scoffs at spending money to gain an edge in a game. The smart shopper who once bought a gameshark figures the price point is WAY off for cheats (But not bad for buying a full game of this type). The casual gamer in me… is intrigued, but not going to spend money when I have a book I could be reading.

I”m not sure what the target market is for this experiment, but as a mutation of the old shareware model, I can”t help but think it”s headed down the old Darwinian path.

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