Something for Something

New posts have been a little thin on the ground here for the past month or so, largely because I’ve been spending all my time working on the screenplay for a pornographic movie where a group of sexually frustrated female pensioners are teased by a well-endowed lothario who refuses to service them – I’m calling it No Man-Tree for Old Cunts.

Eventually I realised I was whining…

Obviously that’s a lie – I haven’t spent a month working on a screenplay; I’ve spent a month working on that pun. In the few spare moments when I wasn’t tinkering with Spoonerisms, I’ve been playing games on my wee Android tablet – in particular, I’ve become quite attached to Tekken Card Tournament, a “free-to-play” card game based on the popular fighting game franchise.

Now, I’ve dealt with marketing people, and I know that it’s all about “it ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it” – playing up the pretty bits, brushing the bad bits under the carpet and generally sticking to a “message” that may or may not have much grounding in reality. One of their most important tools is naming – the name you give something frames how you think about it, so they’ll work hard to come up with something that projects exactly the image they want to project, regardless of how divergent it is from the truth.

Even knowing that, I’m both aghast and kind of impressed at the audacity of whoever came up with the term “free-to-play”, a model that, in practice, equates to “not free to play”. You download the game for free and can play it a bit at a time, but to play it whenever you want, however you want, you have to cough up the dough. For games like TCT and perhaps the most well-known of it’s kind, Candy Crush Saga, there’s a “lives” system – you can play a few games, but then you’re “out of lives” and have to wait for them to regenerate (usually half an hour at a time) or pay to keep playing.

Yes, technically you can play it for free, and if the only options were that or games that you have to buy up front, “free-to-play” might be a reasonable term, but considering that these games exist alongside ones that are 100% free of charge and of restrictions, it’s more than a bit disingenuous.

In fact, it’s been this bait and switch that’s grated with me most of all – getting a game for “free”, then finding that it expects me to shell out if I actually want to enjoy it more. The more I thought about it, though, the more OK with it I became. For one thing, it’s basically a variant of (possibly an improvement on) the age-old practice of offering a free demo – this way, you get access to all the game has to offer, just at a throttled pace*. And to be honest, the “lives” system is good because it ensures that after twenty minutes or so I’m forced to put the tablet down and do something productive with my life.

Eventually I realised I was whining about being encouraged (not even forced) to pay money for something I was genuinely enjoying, which isn’t really unfair. It may be optimism on my part, but it seems like people are becoming more willing to pay a little bit for stuff that they like. Fuck Veronica Mars – the fact that 5 Second Films is getting to make their movie shows that lots of people are cool with the Kickstarter model. And every week, we take the oldest down to the video library to rent a new Disney movie for him – it’d be a piece of cake to find them online for free, but why not part with a few bucks for something that offers value? (I’ll admit there’s also an element of spite to it – discussions of copyright always seem to involve grumpy arseholes who insist that kids these days refuse to pay for anything. Nice to prove them wrong, too.)

Anyway, back to scripting Ponch de León, a CHiPs revival spin-off, where an aging Erik Estrada moves to Florida in search of the fountain of youth. I’m thinking we could get Erik Estrada to play the Erik Estrada part.

*That’s the Tekken experience anyway – I uninstalled Candy Crush Saga once it became clear that the only way to pass some levels was either to be very very lucky (which, at one game per half hour, would take a long long time) or to buy a bunch of powerups.

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