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I guess I just like liking things

It’s often fascinating to me to see how games work and why they’re set up the way they are. I don’t remember when I first realized on-rails shooters were set up that way to show you specific scenes in specific ways or that Resident Evil’s weird camera angles were to maximize the chances you’d get scared, but those realizations made me feel like I was more a part of the system. Any time you can understand the way something works it can help you appreciate it more, at least that’s how it works for me.

Understanding how it works ruins the fantasy, of course, but it can make you appreciate something in a different way. Learning how a magic trick (“Illusion!”) works might take away the joy of the surprise, but it can give you a deeper appreciation of the work the magician had to do to learn it and perform it. Since I know it’s not real magic anyway (Sorry, kids! Santa’s not real, either!) knowing how he does it is far more enjoyable to me.

plumbobThat doesn’t translate the same way in every situation, though. I’ve been playing freemium games long enough now that I know how they work: you do some things, wait, and then do the things again, which gives you access to more things you can do. If you don’t like waiting, you can pay actual money to skip ahead in line. Paying money speeds things up or gives you access to cooler things… just like real life, I guess.

I’ve been playing The Simpsons Tapped Out for over two years. For the longest time I didn’t spend money on it, I just took whatever free donuts (the premium in-game currency) they handed out and saved them up. If I got three donuts for leveling up and it took 60 to buy Otto the bus driver, I just needed to wait for 20 levels. 2.5 years later, though, and I’ve spent somewhere around $30 on it. They offered Harry Plopper/Spider-Pig for 100-some donuts last month, and I’m not made of stone, people. I don’t buy the donuts out-right, I actually by the 99-cent scratchoffs at the Kwik-E-Mart. You’re guaranteed at least 6 donuts, but you might get 100, and I have once or twice. I felt bad about spending money on the game for a while, because it just feels goofy, you know? Spending $30 on a game where you tap stuff. But then it occurred to me: I’ve been playing this game for over two years. I love the writing and I’m enjoying the quests and design. $30 is a pretty good bargain if you look at time spent in-game.

That has not translated into me wanting to spend money on other freemium games, however.

You are also aware that I’ve been playing The Sims Freeplay for 2+ years, with breaks here and there. I quite enjoy the quests and I’ve been a Sims fan for many, many years (having a Sim wash dishes is far more satisfactory than washing my own dishes, for some reason). They, too, have a premium currency: Life Points (and also Social Points, which you earn by interacting with friends’ towns). You can purchase packs of these or earn them very slowly in-game by completing tasks. They can be used to speed up tasks, prevent Sims from aging/dying, or buying special outfits or home furnishings. I’ve talked about this before, I know. Several times. I have not purchased any Life Points for my Sims. I have been able to make do with the ones I earn in the game, so far.

Every so often there is a new quest line added to the game. The most recent one was a Royalty quest, which had me do several things to open a castle, which will then (I suspect) open more quests. It has taken me two weeks to earn all the things I needed to open the castle, because I needed to advance my Archery hobby enough to do so. With two archers going at a time on a 7.5 hour task, I might get six tries in a day. There are 12 goals in any given hobby, in four rows of three. Finishing each row gives a bonus, and finishing all four rows earns you the reward of that particular quest. For the Royalty quest, I had to earn all 12 rewards four separate times (you can reset the rewards after you complete the 12). Furthermore, you are not guaranteed to earn a new reward each time. In fact, you will often earn a repeat award. The Row 1, Column 1 award might show up five times before you see Row 2 Column 3, there’s no way to know until you’ve put in the 7.5 hours. Using Life Points to speed up the task (one LP is needed for every hour left of the task) does not guarantee a new reward, either. You might spend 7 LP to get R1C1 for the 14th time.

It’s quite frustrating.

Here’s the math on the Royalty quest:

  • 12 rewards times 7.5 hours (if each attempt yielded a new reward): 90 hours (3.75 days)
  • 4 sets of 12 needed: 48 rewards
  • Total time needed to get all rewards, assuming each attempt yielded a reward: 360 hours (15 days)
  • We can cut that in half, though, because there are two participants: 180 hours (7.5 days)

Now, granted, I don’t have to be hovering over my Sims as they work, but I do have to keep to a schedule if I want to maximize their output. And if a quest gives me 14 days to finish in order to earn a special bonus, you can see how ridiculous it all can get.

I’m currently on a Sleepwear quest. I have one Sim who started a Modelling hobby. Every time she earns all 12 rewards she opens a new set of sleepwear. The quest started with a 14-day timer. I currently have 8 days left and have only earned the first set and am not quite halfway through the second set. I don’t see how I’ll be able to do it. I can only have one Sim modeling at a time, and it takes 3.25 hours each time. There are five total sets to earn, so that’s 60 rewards I need to earn, which would take 195 hours if got a new reward every time. It would also require me to wake up in the middle of the night every 3.25 hours to set the task again. I really don’t think this one’s going to happen, and it’s upsetting. I get how freemium works, I really do. But in this case it doesn’t work for sure, so there’s no incentive to try it. My poor Sims are just going to have to go without the new fancy sleep duds.

I’m learning something from this experience, but I’m not sure what yet.

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