On Monday's episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, shouty correspondent Aasif Mandvi took on free-to-play iOS games like GameView's Tapfish.
In the game, which is entirely free to download, players maintain an aquarium full of virtual fish. There's a catch, of course—at some point your fish will probably die, and if you'd like, you can revive them… by paying real money. As Mandvi so eloquently puts it, "So it turns out these games are free… until you don't want them to suck."
Kids (or any other kind of player) can very easily hit a button to buy 3,600 "Fish Bucks" for $99, ensuring that their fish will stay happy and alive for a very, very long time. Apparently, at least one family has given the game to their kids to play and been hit with an unexpected bill—the children in the family Mandvi interviews bought $1,500 (!!) worth of fish bucks before their parents discovered what had happened.
In another humorous bit, Mandvi convinces Rizwan Virk, the CEO of GameView (whose other games include Tapfish Exotic, Tap Jurassic, Tap Town and Tap Mall) to take a call from an aggrieved parent; it's the kind of thing that we could never get away with, so it's fun to see.
"You provide a product," Mandvi says Virk, attempting to break down the free-to-play model. "The first one is free. And then as they get more accustomed to your product, the price rises.
"So… you're like a drug dealer." Heh. Mandvi then speaks with a child psychologist who points out how the game exploits children's tendency to not want their pets to die to make money.
As humorous as the bit is, it's also something of an indictment of this kind of morally questionable game design. It's cool to see The Daily Show tackling the subject—hopefully next Mandvi can give us a segment devoted to gamification?
December 5th, 2011 [The Daily Show]