McGinnis: Real Cash for Virtual Gas: New mobile game to charge you to fill upWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Since the creation of the form decades ago, the evolution of video games has been an ever-escalating attempt to capture a feeling of realism. From the first tentative steps with the addition of color, background graphics, adding new layers of dimension in movement, the rise of 3D acceleration and more natural-feeling controls, game developers have tried desperately to give players the feeling that “you are THERE.”
Now, fifteen years into the new millennium, the next stage of gaming realism has officially been realized: You can now pay for gas. Not fake, in-game-world currency either. Real, honest to god money to power a fake car. Electronic Arts has been one of the most celebrated gaming publishers for many, many years. When people think of sports in video games, chances are they are thinking of an EA title. But beyond the Maddens and NHL titles which have defined the company, EA has produced several other franchises outside the sporting realm. One of the most popular is its “Need for Speed” series, racing games which have connected with gamers for several console generations now. Like most developers, EA has jumped into the mobile market with both feet, bringing ports of their flagship titles for players to experience in the palm of their hand. The latest game in the Need for Speed franchise, and the first game developed exclusively for handheld phones, will be hitting smartphones this spring. The game is entitled “No Limits” — a name that is supremely ironic, as we will see in just a moment. As it turns out, Need for Speed: No Limits operates under the auspices of the “free-to-play” model that many publishers love to employ with their mobile offerings. But what that means is, you can download the game for free and play it however much you want … until you run out of gas. Yes, you can run out of gas in a video game. And, if reports from regions where the game has already been released are to be believed, to fill the tank, you will have to pay real currency. Now, you don’t *have* to pay, if like most gamers the idea of shelling out real cash for fake gasoline makes you retch. You can simply wait. Yes, “No Limits” is one of those games where you don’t HAVE to shell out for in-game dough to continue to have fun. But you will have to be patient. Your virtual gas tank will eventually refill on its own, and you can get back to having fun, or you can pay now and race right away. EA is far from the only publisher to employ such a naked cash grab in one of their titles. Beyond the “free-to-play” gaming model, which with each passing day is becoming more of a “pay-to-win” model, gamers have been subjected to a myriad of titles which seem content to hide additional content beyond a pay wall even after they’ve shelled out up to 60 bucks for the privilege of playing the title at home. More levels, cool new powers, awesome additional characters and more are released down the road in an effort to separate consumers from even more of their cash. And if you grow weary of waiting weeks to spend more on your brand new video game, fear not! There are tons of examples of games ready and willing to grab more from your wallet the very day they are released! Why don’t you pre-order that sucker and you can get some special downloads free as soon as you get home? Sure, that means you’re buying the game sight-unseen, with no idea from reviews or friend testimonials if it’s any good, but hey! You’ll have these cool wings! That’s worth the gamble, isn’t it? So, no, EA is far from alone in working hard to squeeze every last dollar from gamers, no matter what the platform. But this latest step — charging players for fake fuel — makes me wonder if we’re a step away from the next evolution in gaming realism. Real-life fines for in-game infractions. Picture it: An adventure game where you have hospital stays for an ill-timed jump. A flight simulator where you’re grounded if you crash. Jail time in “Grand Theft Auto” for the myriad crimes you commit! And if you don’t feel like waiting out those days/months/years as you heal or repay your debt to society, not to worry: Just enter in your credit card and you’ll be back on the road/streets/skies faster than you can say “shameless marketing.” Game over, man. Game over.