Cell Phone games explained
If you're not a cell phone game player, you've probably learned to avoid explanations. They're always written by someone describing their favorite game, trying to convince you to play it. What you want is this: an explanation from someone who's not impressed.
Most cell phone games are completely free. You can play the entire game without spending a penny. That sounds pretty good, except they make their money by setting annoying limits and charging you to remove them. The good news is that they start out friendly since they want to reel you in. The bad news is they often start incredibly easy -- you win no matter what you do -- so you won't know what the real game is for a week.
Some other funny things they do:
- Pay to cheat: In Words With Friends -- online Scrabble against real people -- you can buy extra tile swaps, with cash. In Angry Birds you can buy 1-use power-ups with cash. In puzzle games that give you 15 moves to solve them, you can pay for extra moves. This seems completely nuts, but everyone does it.
- Long tutorials: many phone games walk you through at first. They force you to tap here, tap there and watch the game play itself. Then you get to play it, but just a little, before it's back forcing you to do things. This can go on for hours.
- Advertisements: they can now play full-screen Ads inside of a game. Like regular 15 or 30-second TV Ads. The game can even check if the Ad played all the way through. Most games don't force you to watch Ads, but reward you for doing it.
- No full version: You can't permanently remove the limits. For example, Candy Crush and Angry Birds give 5 plays every few hours. You can buy extra plays on a 1-time basis, but you can never get the version with unlimited plays. There isn't one.
These games make money on pay-as-you-go. Almost everything is a 1-time buy: extra plays, skipping waiting, power-ups -- these games are devilishly clever about inventing an annoyance and giving you a way to buy it away. They try to make it as confusing as possible, too. Instead of 5 plays, you get 60 energy at 12 a play, and can buy 20 more energy for 5 gems. You're not sure if that was a good deal or not.
They all use gems as cash, the way casinos use poker chips. You can't use cash directly. You can only spend real money on gems, which work like cash in the game. But you also get some gems for free, every day. This makes the rules muddy. Anyone can buy an extra power-up using their free gems, so it's not really cheating. But spending money lets you do it a lot more.
The other thing many of these do is really drag things out. New rules are introduced slowly, which would be fine, but it can take days or weeks. It's entirely possible for someone to recommend a game, forgetting to tell you that it does't get good for a month.
If you still care, a mini-list of common game types:
- Casino Slot machines: these are like real slot machines, but you can't win money. You spend real money on spins, but win game gold. Since it's all fake, you can win a lot more. It makes no sense, but these are popular.
- Farming, cooking: you plant seeds in a small field, wait for them to sprout, and harvest for cash. Then buy more profitable crops, more farmland, and barn and cows, and so on. The fun is seeing the farm grow and figuring out the best crops. The cooking versions have you serving nicer and nicer foods, and buying more tables for customers.
- Crafting: very similar to farming/cooking. You make and sell daggers and robes, eventually learning to make diamond plate armour and flaming axes. These often look like Dungeon games, since your customers are wizards and warriors and dwarves and elves. But you only see them before and after adventures. All you do is grow your dungeon supply shop.
- General progress: plenty of games are about just trying to grow, but there's no strong theme like farming or running a shop. Maybe you have a fleet of ships. Every day you click more and more buttons, and they get stronger, but they never actually sail anywhere. They just "get stronger". A surprising number of games are like that.
Cow Clicker was a popular game, and made money, by letting you click your cow once a day. It kept a count, which reset if you missed a day. You could buy more types of cows, and send them to friends. Plenty of cell phone games just aren't games.
- Physics: these use a realistic simulation of bouncing, rolling, and general knocking things around. Some are about cutting a rope, or throwing balls to smash things (Angry birds). They all come with hundreds of pre-made levels, which you must beat in order.
- Hidden Object: a series of pictures where you need to tap to find 10 cats or something like that. An old, popular genre.
- Match-3: Candy Crush is one of these. You slide tiles to match others, and they all vanish. Everything on top drops to fill the gap, including new ones from the very top. That can cause a chain reaction of vanishing and falling, if you're lucky. You have a limited number of moves to win. They have hundreds of levels, with different grid shapes, win conditions, special tiles and such.
- RPG match-3: these are match-3 games where matching tiles zaps a monster. You win when it's dead. The special power-up buttons are pictures of an amazon, a wizard and so forth, so it feels like a dungeon game.
- Idle/Tycoon: these are the games that advertise "plays itself even when turned off". They're basically management games. You spend all your money on factories, then turn off the App and let them run for as long as you want. When you come back, you invest the money in more factories, or upgrades, or new mega factories. When you reach a billion dollars, you get a small bonus and start over in a new world. It sounds pretty stupid, and many are, but some make you really experiment to find a good factory set-up, then change things to make you find a new one.
- Collectable cards: these are all live 2-player games, lasting a few minutes. You draw the cards from your personal shuffled deck, like regular cards, but they aren't really card games. You might play an Orc card that turns into a monster, shambling towards the enemy. You start with a limited selection of cards. Over weeks and months more interesting ones become available.
- Endless runner: these are like racing games, but you're not racing anyone. You pick up bonus items, makes jumps, avoid obstacles, and get points, on a race course that goes until you crash too many times.
- Collectable heroes: almost every game that says it has hundreds of heroes to collect is a progress game. You tap a button to defeat the Caves of Doom 10 times in a row, and spend the loot upgrading your monster-fighting team. There are actual battles, but they run themselves and you can skip them.
- MMO's: cell phones can now have real 3D games like World or Warcraft. For no reason, they all auto-play -- your character will run around accepting quests and fighting for hours (the phone has to be playing the game. You'll need a 2nd phone to make calls). But 5-person dungeons are the fun part and only work on manual mode. Some of these are decent, if a little limited.
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