Last month Nintendo dipped a tentative toe into the dark world of microtransactions when it released its first freemium game, Pokemon Shuffle, which mixes the classic match-3 puzzle genre with catching Pokemon. This of course sounds very much like Pokemon Battle Trozei to fans of the series and it is, save the fact that you can only play a level every half an hour, or spend real money to max out your play time.
As a fan of the genre, I must say the game is pretty good. Different Pokemon have different effects when matching them, and each individuals strengths and weaknesses come into play. You have different chances of catching each Pokemon just like the regular series, and there are more difficult trainer battles. While I haven’t spent a lot of time with Pokemon Shuffle, StreetPass tells me it has over 160 levels meaning there’s about 15 hours of unique gameplay, and the graphics and play style are all as polished as you have come to expect from Nintendo.
Despite the nice gameplay, or perhaps because of it, critics are upset that Nintendo has turned to the dark side. Your timer maxes out at collecting 5 levels to play, meaning that no matter how long you wait the maximum levels you can play at one time is 5. Levels are short and snappy and you will often get around 15 minutes of play time per 2.5 hour wait. Many would prefer to pay $10 and play this title to their heart’s content rather than be restricted, but this option doesn’t exsist. In this game, Nintendo hopes to maximise its profits by taking in far more than the money it would make by selling the title from the few addicts with money to supposedly burn.
It might surprise you that I am not necessarily against freemium titles as a genre. I played an insane amount of Tiny Death Star racking up more hours than most people spend on MMOs and never spending a penny. While I would like to play more of Pokemon Shuffle at one time, I’m happy to wait it out in exchange for the delightfully free content I’ve been gifted. The fact that you can exchange real money in order to extend play time is mentioned only once, just as my 2DS only reminded me that the title was available one time. Luckily, I’m the kind of person that can happily never be tempted to pump real money into these things, though I’m not the intended market for this game.
Freemium games target the impulsive and the reckless. Just like those emails from the prince of Nigeria telling you that you have won the lottery, or payday loan lenders, they are only intended to sucker in a small portion of the people they contact. The model for freemium games is to leech dry a tiny amount of people for huge amounts of money, rather than taking a little from everyone. This is made worse by the fact that most of these games are marketed to children who beg their parents for the money and have no concept of value or spending. This is obviously shocking but allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment. As someone who grew up without any money, free content is not something I ever passed on lightly. Making the title free makes artistic content available to everyone while hopefully only taking money from those with some to spare. Unfortunately, of course this isn’t always the case, and freemium games can sometimes take advantage of those who are easiest to manipulate.
The controversy surrounding freemium games is more nuanced than it seems. As for Pokemon Shuffle if you are more than happy to play in short bursts and value anything you get for free, then I can’t recommend downloading this more. If you think it could fool you into paying more than you can afford then stay well away. However, in this writer’s humble opinion. Pokemon Shuffle like DLC and console exclusives, is yet another example of Nintendo doing things just right.