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Freemium Field Test: Game of War Fire Age is even less exciting than its generic Kate Upton commercials

Andrew Hayward | Feb. 10, 2015
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).

Even when you exit the ads, the push to spend is ever apparent — there's a distracting, impossible-to-ignore, animated "SALE!" banner that takes up a chunk of real estate on the main city screen, not to mention a slot machine that tempts you into spending premium currency. Game of War tries so hard to sell you its digital currency and other perks that it smacks of desperation, and the business model driving the experience reveals itself as the core design element, rather than the thin gameplay draped atop it.

Just to be thorough, I eventually spent $5 to take advantage of a Super Bowl-themed bundle: "Super Sunday SUPER SALE: Kick Off to VICTORY!" (This deal still appeared the following Monday, by the way.) That earned me a stack of gold and an array of other items for use in expanding and protecting my kingdom, but I really didn't see the point. At least not when the entirety of the game in front of me focused on tapping buttons every so often to make numbers grow larger. 

While writing this up, I noticed one of my advanced alliance mates saying he had 38 days left on his current research timer. More than a month to wait for something to activate, because there's no such thing as instant gratification in free-to-play games — not without immense cost, at least. He seemed to be taking it in stride, however. "I have nothing but time," he said. You've also got so many more options beyond this bland freemium grind. Explore them, please. 

The verdict 

Game of War: Fire Age seems to pull people in with its social features and promise of greater things, but as far as I can tell, there's nothing much to find beyond timers, buttons, and admittedly lively and amusing chat rooms. It's monetized to a distracting, overwhelming degree, but I didn't find much value in spending money instead of just waiting for timers to run out. After all, there aren't any timers or restrictions on the conversation and camaraderie. 

My biggest complaint isn't about the timers or spending prompts, but rather the lack of any meaningful reason to deal with either. Fire Age doesn't bother with interesting gameplay or any semblance of storyline — it's all "build this" and "train them," but the reward is simply more and more busywork. Millions of players are feeding into this cycle, for some reason, but all they're buying themselves is more drudgery. And perhaps a chance to see Kate Upton on national television.


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