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Hay Day and Beer: a toxic interaction?

By on March 12, 2013
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I’ve been playing Hay Day and really enjoying it. I’ve made it to level 32 and although it has some weaknesses (the achievement design sucks), it’s a great game.

I’ve even spent money on it. I’ve made two purchases of £2.99. In each case, I used the diamonds to buy durable upgrades. They expanded the queue on different production buildings so, for example, I could queue up three loaves of bread instead of two. I’ve also expanded my storage. It has meant that I have customised the game to have longer play sessions with more time between them, which suits me.

If you were to ask me if I regretted my spending, I would say no. I have played the game for many hours. It is a fun, well designed game with fabulous attention to detail (Just watch the shadow of the clouds floating across the sun-dappled landscape of your farm). I consider myself, emotionally, as a true fan, not a whale, even if my spending has not yet reached whale levels.

There is one thing troubling me though. Each time I bought currency, I had had a beer. I am not a heavy drinker, and I rarely drink at home, but I’ve just finished the first draft of my book, and on a couple of evenings in the past 10 days, I’ve had two bottles of beer, 2x 33cl of Kronenbourg.

Every evening this week, I’ve played Hay Day before I went to bed. On two evenings, I had two beers, played Hay Day and spent £2.99 before I went to bed. The only difference, as far as I can see? The beer.

We all know that alcohol reduces our inhibitions (although in actuality it is not the alcohol that does this, but our social and cultural norms about how we should behave when drunk.) So despite me arguing that I feel very comfortable about spending £6 on Hay Day, the truth is that I only chose to spend that money when I felt disinhibited.

There are many possible reasons. It might be that, despite being a big fan of free-to-play, I still feel as if it is “cheating” to spend money on what is essentially a simple puzzle game. It might be that the slight reduction of my inhibitions is the tipping point that allows me to justify spending a little bit of money on a game that I am enjoying. Or it might be that free-to-play games need that element of disinhibition before they trigger spending.

It’s not limited to free-to-play games: anyone who has sat down in front of a Steam sale after a beer or two will have a library of discounted games to prove it. It is, however, troubling me. I believe that free-to-play and paymium business models are likely to be the salvation of the games industry by allowing more people than ever before to experience games on multiple devices while allowing those who love the games to spend lots of money on things they truly value. The fixed price model is struggling in the face of piracy, technological change and competition.

It is important to me that free-to-play and paymium business models are, and are perceived to be, ethical. Ethics are a tricky and subjective topic, but it is one that we have to address.

Which is why the fact that I only spend on IAPs when I have had two beers troubling. I’m going to keep an eye on my spending habits and see if this is more than an anomaly. Perhaps you should do the same.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com