Games of 2013: Forza Motorsport 5

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Forza Motorsport 5

Because of the breadth of games that I like to play, I am understandably tolerant for different models for purchase. Whether the game is $60 or $1, whether there’s downloadable content or in-app purchases or subscription fees, I try to be mindful of why such systems might have been implemented and not immediately rage out that there’s an occasional prompt to buy something with real world money.

But even I have limits. Tonight’s game, Microsoft’s Forza Motorsport 5, is easily the most egregious monetization scheme I’ve seen on a console platform to date, to the point where I have to include in this list solely as a warning to others.

I defer to Eurogamer’s explanation in their review, emphasis mine:

> All that’s left is the grind, and it’s not a particularly pleasant one. Unlike previous outings, cars don’t unlock upon leveling up. Everything must be bought in Forza Motorsport 5, and all transactions take place in a slightly misshapen economy. **A series will, on average, net the player in excess of 110,000 credits for just under an hour’s effort – but with some of the premium racecars costing well over a million, it’s a somewhat brutal grind.** Good job, then, that there are tokens purchasable on the Xbox One’s marketplace for you to attain the car you’re after, or to temporarily boost the rate at which you gain XP. When you’ve already paid £429.99 for a new console, £44.99 for the game and maybe even £349.99 for the only steering wheel that the game supports at launch, such tricks appear a little unsavory, and in Forza 5, mechanics greedily smuggled from free-to-play games trample over the elegant RPG elements the series once embraced so effectively.

To be clear, it’s not about the grind. I have derived much enjoyment out of games that rely on some level of grinding. But there has to be a limit to that grind, a clear indication of progress or benefit as you go. Grinding for hours in an RPG gets you loot and/or money and/or experience. Grinding for hours in Team Fortress 2 or DotA 2 gives you item drops. Grinding for hours in Forza 5 gets you a handful of credits that might be enough to buy the car you’re eyeballing.

Now repeat this 200 times.

Couple this with a lengthy schedule of planned DLC, that costs real money but somehow doesn’t unlock the assets into your garage for you. You are paying money for the “right” to grind the economy to unlock the cars.

Now add into this that Forza 5 costs $60. It is not a free-to-play title; it’s full retail.

Again, I don’t mind creative monetization schemes. But I do mind terrible ones. And Forza 5’s is pretty damn terrible.

Forza Motorsport 5 is available for the Xbox One.


Games of 2011: Tiny Tower

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2011 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. Instead of my usual end-of-year game recommendations, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2011 posts.

Tiny Tower

There’s no avoiding it: the era of digital distribution is finally here. It has brought us many joys – sudden sales and new pricing models, better patch and upgrade management, and the concept that reinstallation should be allowed as often as necessary.

It has also brought pain, the most prominent of which is the dreaded microtransaction, small monetary charges for game content. In the iOS world, this is generally accomplished through what is dubbed in-app purchases (IAP). IAPs have gotten a bad rap not because of their existence, but because of their use. Given the endless joy the games industry derives from squeezing cash from customers, IAPs rapidly devolved from “buy new content” to “buy a power-up” to “buy a power-up you can’t advance in the game without”. This slippery slope lead to some great feel-good stories this year, such as “8-year-old buys $1,400 worth of Smurfberries and “Tetris Finally Gains a Subscription Fee“.

But again, IAPs are not themselves evil. Even in freemium world-builder casual games where you’re selling progress boosters, it’s possible to do it in a way that doesn’t break the game. But most game developers and publishers don’t have interest in finding that balance. Monetization is a more critical deliverable than thoughtful game design.

Tiny Tower isn’t on my list because it’s a particularly deep or compelling game. It’s most a time filler — some might call it a cow clicker — with a bit of style, humor, and grace. It is pleasant enough, but also addictive enough that one gets a sensation of relief when you delete it off your device, realizing how much free time you’ll get back when you’re not restocking shops every waking moment.

Tiny Tower *is* on my list because NimbleBit found the balance. IAPs are available to fill your coffers with “tower bucks”, which can be used for a variety of purposes to advance your tower. But there is no pressing, game-breaking need to purchase them with real money to progress in the game. The game happily throws them at you regularly – bonuses for fully stocking floors, or putting someone into their dream job, or even because it’s their birthday. Through diligent play, you can accumulate enough for every optional upgrade in the game without spending a dime.

Kudos to NimbleBit for wanting to make a game that appeals to both those who will splurge on virtual goods and those who don’t care to. I wish more developers would spend the time to find that balance.

Tiny Tower is available for iOS as a Universal app, as well as for Android.