Free-to-play games often look appealing, but it's difficult to know at a glance whether the business model is insidious and fun ruining, or reasonable and worth pumping a few bucks into. With Freemium Field Test, we'll take a recent free-to-play iOS game, put it through its paces, and let you know if it's really worth your time (and money).
During the Super Bowl last week, viewers were treated to a live-action ad for free-to-play hit Game of War: Fire Age starring famed model Kate Upton. It depicts her as a ruler — initially seen bathing (sex appeal!), but then charging into battle — who challenges you to join her by downloading the game in question. The fantasy setting isn't very distinctive or interesting: you won't mistake it for Game of Thrones, that's for sure. But at least the commercial has a smidgen of spirit.
That's more than I can say for the game it advertised. Upon seeing the spot, I grabbed my iPhone, opened up the game I'd been poking away at for two weeks at that point, and realized that I still had no idea what I was playing for. There's no evident storyline, no clear enemy or overarching objective in sight, and none of the very light personality depicted in a commercial seen on TV's biggest stage. It's not even a particularly attractive game, full of menus and ancient-looking artwork.
Developer Machine Zone surely spent millions to air that single ad, and it is the crown jewel of a reported $40 million campaign with Upton as its star. I'm sure it's been beneficial: Game of War has hovered near the apex of the Top Grossing apps list in recent weeks, and the more people that play, the more can be tempted to splash a little cash to speed up timers as they expand their cities and alliances.
But from my experience, there's nothing to strive for in this rote kingdom-building affair — no incentive to play, and even less to speed money. So what's the appeal?
Upton provides her likeness to Athena, an illustrated guide whose image appears from time to time, but if the commercials hint at a storyline or grand struggle driving the action, it didn't reveal itself in my time with the game. Instead, Game of War: Fire Age winds up being one heck of a menu-navigating simulation.
Starting with a mostly empty chunk of land, you'll tap buttons through drab menus to generate and upgrade buildings: farms, logging camps, quarries, and mines to start. And then within your city walls, also barracks, villas, hospitals, and eventually structures like an embassy or prison. Each takes time to build and takes longer to upgrade as you increase each building's capabilities, letting it produce more resources for... well, that part wasn't always entirely clear.
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