I’m deleting Merge Dragons from my phone the second I publish this article. The urge I have to keep it is the main reason it’s getting erased. I don’t want to play a fun game that keeps pleading for more of my money even after I’ve already paid to play it.

Merge Dragons is an initially-enjoyable mobile game in which you combine three of the same thing to form a better version of that thing. See three green plants of the same kind? Merge them to make a flower. Merge three of those flowers to make a better flower. Do the same kind of merging with rocks, logs, treasure chests, dragon eggs and the dragons that hatch from those eggs.

The game was recommended to me a few weeks ago by a very smart game developer who confessed that it was fun but all-consuming. Indeed it is. It’s too consuming.

Kotaku Game Diary

Daily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.

As I’ve merged dragons on my subway commute each day, I have been fighting a test of wills. Merge Dragons is, after all, a so-called free-to-play game that is regularly trying to get money out of me.

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I gave it $5 after I played for a few days and got hooked by its Camp mode. In Camp, players are given a huge, clouded playing field that they can gradually clear up and fill with an ecosystem of plants, rocks, dragons and who knows what comes next. You merge plants, eggs and all sorts of stuff, and then you watch your dragons harvest new items that you can merge to make new things. Sometimes the dragons unearth locked treasure chests that require Dragon Gems to open. Often, the dragons go to sleep, though they can be awoken early with Dragon Gems. Guess what? Dragon Gems are hard to come by in the game unless you pay. No problem, I figured. If I like a game, I’ll happily pay to play it. I spent my first $5 on a daily pay-out of Gems that’d go on for a month. I should have known this was too shady for my tastes when I noticed that you have to check in each day to get that day’s payment. How else could the game throw so many amazing limited time real-money offers at me?

I gave the game another $10 during a special weekend event in which players get basically a new special version of Camp in which they could merge familiar items as well as new, exotic eggs that seemingly would hatch into some very special dragons. The first egg came easy. The second was taking a while, so I spent $10 on a huge pile of Gems, keeping some in reserve. I did the mental math on getting a crucial third egg, realized I probably couldn’t get it and bailed. I’ve got kids to help raise, you know? Work to get done, too. When I logged back into the game early last week, it showed me that I had a one-chance-only offer to pay Dragon Gems to get that third egg. Okay, I figured, I’d take the egg.

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Nope.

I’m now two-plus weeks into playing Merge Dragons, $15 lighter in my wallet and I can tell I’m just in a hamster wheel that isn’t going anywhere no matter how much I pay. I’ve still barely defogged much of the Camp zone. My dragons still go to sleep very quickly after doing very little work. I still have a bunch of treasure chests waiting to be opened if only I’ll pay some Dragon Gems, but that huge pile I got for $10 is long gone. My screen is full of icons and alerts prompting me to maybe consider paying more.

I’m having no better time than I was before I paid $15. I barely feel further along. Whatever I’ve done that’s satisfied me just led me to feeling hungrier. I want to see what happens when I merge better and better dragons, but I’m not going to.

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I just checked the in-game store and there are not one but two $99.99 offers, one of them marked with “7x Value!” and “1 Left!” blurbs.

Screw this. I’m deleting the game. I win.