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Why I haven’t bought Frozen Synapse on iPad for £4.99 yet

By on May 17, 2013
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Frozen Synapse from Mode 7 Games is by all accounts a great game. It is in my preferred genre (strategy), on my preferred device (iPad). Why haven’t I played it yet?

iPad Screenshot 1

Because it costs £4.99.

I’m now going to talk about why I haven’t bought it as a way of helping me (and hopefully you) understand the changing dynamics of entertainment industries. Let’s see if that works.

I have realised that my relationship with content creators is changing. I want the people who seek to entertain me to earn my money, not to expect it. The iPad games I have struggled with recently (Ridiculous Fishing, Baldur’s Gate, Star Command), all started their relationship by insisting that I pay for the game before I knew if I was going to have a good time. This set me off on the wrong foot.

“Alright then, if you think you are so much better than all the other free games out there, prove it to me. Quickly. Come on now. No, you aren’t better, sorry, and I’m now in a bad mood with you.”

I rapidly started resenting the money I had spent, tiny as it was, and found it very hard for the game to earn back my respect, my love or my money.

Of course, this is ridiculous. I have paid more for a bad cup of coffee than I have paid for these games. They’re not even terrible games. Ridiculous Fishing just isn’t for me. Baldur’s Gate just isn’t for the iPad and has a staggeringly slow start. Star Command shows what happens when a team is filled with artists but no game designers. Game design is an actual, difficult skill, you know. Yet the competitive environment and human expectations are very different for digital games than for physical coffees.

Dan Ariely’s Hershey’s Kiss experiment famously shows how important the power of free is. It draws people in like moths to a flame. A key element is that free eliminates the risk of loss. I had to put more “risk” into the decision to download a paid game than a free game. I will feel more stupid if I don’t enjoy it than if the only cost to me was some all-you-can-eat bandwidth on my wifi. I will *resent* the game much more quickly if it makes me think that I am foolish for having spent the money.

In the marvellous Mistakes were Made, but not by me, psychologists Carol Tavris and Eliot Aronson explain the concept of cognitive dissonance. In essence, we don’t like holding two contradictory opinions in our head. For example, if we start a fight with someone, we can either believe that we were a bad person for starting the fight, or that the other guy deserved it. Since we don’t like believing that we are a bad person, it becomes easier to demonise the other side.

The equivalent works for paying for a game. If I am not enjoying a game that I paid for, either the game sucks, or I am an idiot for paying for it. Since I don’t want to admit that I am an idiot, it must be that the game sucks. There is an alternative, of course. It might be that *because* I paid for, I believe that it is a good game, because admitting that it is not a good game would make me admit I was an idiot for paying for it.

This is obviously a very abbreviated way of thinking about the psychology of free and paid titles. The essence is that I feel that games now need to earn my money, rather than feeling that they deserve it before I know if I will enjoy the game. My fear of loss is sufficiently strong that I will resent paying for a game upfront. (Demos don’t cut it either; a demo is time wasted not playing the game – more in another post).

Which is why I have not yet bought Frozen Synapse . I love the Mode 7 Games guys. I am sure I will get over my loss aversion soon. But in the meantime, go and check it out. I am sure it is an excellent game.

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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