My Little Pony: Friendship is Free-To-Play
Before I get into this, I need to confess two things. First, I’m a brony. Second (and far worse), I play and have enjoyed those stupid Farmville-esque free-to-play mobile games – games like Gameloft’s My Little Pony. This is the ‘official’ MLP app, and it makes me angry because it is bullshit. Gameloft is being underhanded and skeezy to manipulate a fanbase into giving them money.
For free to play, it’s pretty standard; you get ponies and you build shops. You play with ponies to level them up, higher level ponies do harder tasks at shops, harder tasks mean more money. There is a currency you get in-game for tasks (bits), a currency you get from friends (hearts), and a freemium currency that you pay money for (gems – you can find them in-game, however, but super rarely). There are, of course, ponies you can only buy with each type of currency. You’ll get the usual variety of small quests – collect this much money, build this decoration, etc – and the overarching quest to unlock all the statue-like ‘harmony stones’, which is basically done by buying a ton of land and “activating” stones with shards dropped by collecting money from shops.
There are some nice touches; as the ponies wander around town, they tend to gather in groups to ‘play’ together – as you watch, one will do an emote (like rearing), and others will mimic. The original voice actors from the show reprise their roles for a handful of characters, including the ‘mane six’ (the show’s six primary characters). I think they did a good job with picking ponies; they’ve included many fan favourites who hardly appear in the show (Vinyl Scratch, Octavia, even Dr Whooves). The animations are cute, and overall it’s… pleasant. Until you start to actually play the game.
On one hand, you have the mistakes. Clipping errors happen on almost every pony; manes clip through bodies, goggles clip through faces, etc. Watching a pony try do do the ‘worm’ dance move is horrifying. Even better are the ‘string not found’ errors on certain notifications and items. Some ponies have hair that covers half their face, so in two of the four games you play their face is totally obscured. The games themselves are glitchy. One game, apple-picking, puts your pony below apple trees and you need to hit left and right to catch the apples as they fall. 1 in 10 times I play, the pony will randomly run the opposite direction. And those aren’t the biggest problems – for a game that focuses on ‘friendship,’ the multiplayer system works maybe every other day. Hell, 1 in 8 times I start the app none of the text appears, and one in 15 times the app crashes because my wi-fi is enabled. Shoddy doesn’t even begin to describe it.
On the other hand, you have the ridiculous skeeziness of the whole thing. I mean, yes, I understand that they need you to buy things for them to make money, but honestly. Two of the six main characters are gem-only, totalling about $10 – and that’s not counting the numerous other quest lines that require you to pay gems. Before you can get character A, you need to get character B (gem only), build a building (gem only) and do a little dance. I mean, it’s frustrating that some of the characters (including fan-favourite Dr Whooves) are only available if you gamble with gems, but the fact you can’t progress the quests without paying is downright sleazy.
Gameloft put just enough effort into the game to make the game look pretty enough to lure in the dedicated fanbase, and hopefully to keep them ensnared. Past that, it’s shoddy, it’s sleazy, and really frustrating. They’ve worked me into a corner. I’d like to pay for the game because I’ve been enjoying it, but I don’t want to reward this underhanded behaviour. I hate that this is a legitimate business practice, and I hate that I can’t see a single way to fix it. This is how supply and demand works, and Gameloft has made a name for themselves by supplying the demand however they want, even if it’s at the cost of the consumer.