Popular iPhone gaming developer Ngmoco released Eliminate Pro yesterday, its much-anticipated, online, first-person shooter. This well-polished "free" game features smooth looking graphics, onscreen controls that are fairly effective (no match for a controller or keyboard/mouse setup, but that's to be expected), a number of power ups to improve your weapons and armor, and five playable maps. In-game kills and winning matches earn you credits you can use to buy new weapons and armor. There are eight armor types, five weapon types, and items to buy like armor designs (skins) to give you a new look. The best part is that you get to play an online FPS from wherever you are on 3G or Wi-Fi against your friends or against players from around the world. The game uses the Plus+ network, so you'll need to register your character before you start playing online. Sounds pretty great, right? Not so fast.
Once you've played a few online games you will quickly see how the revenue model for Eliminate Pro is somewhat less than ideal. Here's the rub: in order to earn credits (for all the great purchases) in online matches, your 12-node energy bar must be charged. Each online game uses up four nodes, so you get three games before you run out of energy (about 15 minutes). So if you want to use the game for free, once you're out of energy, Eliminate Pro displays the time remaining until the next recharge in minutes, which comes out to about four hours. At the end of four hours, it only gives you four nodes of energy back, so you'll only be able to play one credit-accruing game every four hours. This is where the in-app purchase model comes in.
While you can play the Eliminate Pro online and against bots with an empty energy bar, you will not accrue credits. To recharge your energy bar, you'll need to buy one of four packages of power cells via an in-app purchase. The price scheme goes like this: 99 cents for 20 power cells, $1.99 for 45, $9.99 for 280, and $29.99 for 975 power cells. But the real kicker is that each power cell only fills up one node, meaning you will use 12 power cells to fill up your energy bar (notice how a 99 cent pack of 20 lets you fill up one 12-node bar, but not enough to fill another). In other words, if you want to keep earning credits and buying fancy items, you'll be paying roughly 60 cents per 15-minute game session.
Though this game is highly polished, with just about everything a gamer could want in an iPhone online FPS, the in-app purchase system seems too steep to me. Those who are excited about the game and want to continue to play for free will be playing a highly crippled game needing to wait 4 hours before they can earn a few more credits. Those willing to spend the money will quickly realize the game is eating up their cash quickly.
I'm very interested in what people think about this particular pricing model. I think the game itself is pretty great--not as good as Modern: Combat Sandstorm for gameplay, but the best for online first-person shooters. I suppose the casual gamer will have no trouble playing for 15 minutes a day on this game and slowly earning credits over time to buy items. But the people who want to spend time playing the "complete" game will need to pay--and quite a lot if they really like the game and want to get powerful quickly. Finally, I wonder what this means for other iPhone apps in the future and whether we're going to see more pricing models like this one. Will everything become pay-to-play?
What do you think? Is the free version good enough for the amount you would actually play? How much are you willing to spend to continue playing the complete game of Eliminate Pro? Is this pricing model fair? Is this a preview of pricing models of other future apps? Let me know in the comments!