Freemium – Unfair business model or unfit to be parents?

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How things change over the years, what was once a phone is now a computer.  Who would have thought that the migration from solid state media would be so rapid? When it was clear which way the wind was blowing where did the vocal writers disappear off to when the Android Market Place, Netflix and the online stores of the consoles appeared?

It seems the migration away from solid state media is all but complete, with the exception of the console users.

A business model that always causes a heated debate is that of the “freemium” one, the app that you download and pay for extra usage – for example the games which “lure” you in for free then produce barriers which require payment (not my words there).

Whilst for every one person who has a good experience of freemium, there are plenty that don’t, but I suggest that the fremium model is nothing new, we’ve always had it, except in this world of app stores we seem to have forgotten our computing roots.

Cast your mind back to the 80’s.  Home computers were not the common item in the home, interest had only begun to grow in the industry and certainly pre-internet days, the ability to go online and converse/play as we do today was something of the remit of the “l337” (BBS’s I am referring to)… I fondly remember the /atd 0816448714 I faithfully typed for many years (the Cheam Amiga BBS) and along with these happier days of computing we also had “fremium” of sorts…..a pay as you go business model for games.  If I am judging my words correctly, then about now you should scratching your heads and asking yourself what on earth I’m rambling about….

The coin-op Arcades are probably the best example of “pay as you go” computing and maybe the most similar to the freemium software we have today.  During those days, nothing was free and in order to progress through the game (unless you were very good) required you to push more money into the systems.  Think this was cheaper than today’s freemium titles? Think again, for the latest games (even in the early 90’s) it was 50p a go and you could easily use up £3.00 to get any amount of decent time on the latest titles at the arcade.  Now compare that to the freemium prices we have now (on average) and compare that to the price of the 90’s…..doesn’t look so bad now does it?

I cannot remember people calling for the boycott of arcades in the 80’s and 90’s.  If you didn’t like the way they charged for play, you could purchase the “lesser” home computer version or you didn’t play at all.  The same I’d suggest would go for today’s freemium titles and at least in todays world, you can get a better idea of what a title is like BEFORE you part with any money.

Here in the UK, it takes one horror story out of millions of users and next thing you know, Freemium is the digital devil incarnate

I thought it must be a mistake, so I checked my bank balance online and nothing had been taken out.

I thought nothing of it until I my credit card advisor phoned and told me they had authorised the transaction.  

Danny had bought dozens of in-game weapons and keys on the iPad 3 including 12 purchases of ‘333 keys’ at £69.99 a time and seven ‘333 ecstasy bombs’ at £69.99.  

He also bought five lots of “9000 darts” each costing £69.99, five lots of ‘4200 darts’ at £5.49 each and additional ecstasy bombs totalling £3.22.


What these comments fail to draw much attention to is that “Danny” (the child) had been given the password by his parents so was able to gain access to the in-game shop and make these purchases.  It’s claimed she was told by Danny her son that the game was free, but Danny is 5 years old and for parent to take the word of the 5 year old and give them access to make purchases then they have little sympathy from me.  No, its not the child’s fault, its the parents.  In a similar way if a child has access to a parents bank card (and giving the password on the app store is the same thing) then you can’t claim innocence when the child unknowingly runs up a massive bill.

For me this is not an example of the evils of Freemium, its simply bad parenting by lack of supervision.

If I give my lad my wallet and let him loose in the amusement arcades, should I be surprised when I find my wallet depleted of change? Of course not, that’s why I wouldn’t do it.  Online its even easier since you don’t see the money and the spending thereof is simply a click of a button.

The Office of Fair Trading is also looking into Freemium titles (although who, what, when) is not revealed.  I would suggest that maybe (if such a thing existed) that there be an investigation by the Office of Good Parenting instead.

For me freemium titles work very well.  I don’t have oodles of time to spend on a smartphone or tablet playing games, I want to test out a game and get an idea for it.  Once I like a title, I am happy to pay to expand the game – although in my experience a little more patience will get the same rewards without spending any money.  The freemium title I am playing with my son at the moment is Monster Warlord (reviewed previously on OpenBytes), I have no fear of him going off on a spending spree if left unsupervised whilst playing.  Why? Because he doesn’t have the password.  Anyone who cannot grasp such basics really shouldn’t own a smartphone, or certainly shouldn’t moan when a large bill is received.

The OFT are quoted as saying:

In particular, the OFT is looking into whether these games include ‘direct exhortations’ to children – a strong encouragement to make a purchase, or to do something that will necessitate making a purchase, or to persuade their parents or other adults to make a purchase for them.


To which I’d ask why? If the parents (and lets be fair here, to have a debit card in the UK you should be an adult) are the ones with the control of the password, then the games can be as addictive or aggressive in marketing as they like because the kids won’t be able to make any purchases.

Of course its in the OFT interests to be doing something about this.  After-all its a way to justify their existence – play on the few horror stories by parents who’s common sense seems to have been given away as easily as their passwords.

We are concerned that children and their parents could be subject to unfair pressure to purchase when they are playing games they thought were free, but which can actually run up substantial costs.


Unfair pressure? Like the advertising on TV? Like the placement of products in supermarkets designed to lure parents and their children into more purchases?   This is an excellent example of a larger issue at play in society today – its always someone else’s fault.  People are very quick to claim nanny state, but with people like the OFT policing Freemium it seems very much like people want to be nannied.  Want to hear about prssure to purchase? Any parents around during the Pokemon trading card craze? Again though, for responsible parents it wasn’t a problem to deal with.

I am an adult.  I am a responsible parent.  I do not need groups like the OFT trying to protect me from anything.  I’m probably far more aware of the plethora business models available online than they are and to be blunt, if parents need “protecting” this way by the OFT, then one has to question their suitability of being parents in the first place.

Should in the case of Danny the parents be responsible for the purchases? Yes of course.  If “Danny” had watched his parents type in the password and then made purchases that way, then maybe not; but in this case the password was given freely, therefore I’d say the parents are fully responsible for the transactions.

Tim W

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Android: Monster Warlord

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Continuing with my run of looking at Android titles, here’s a little gem which has been out for a while now.  It seems prudent to give it a small review, firstly because its been given some considerable attention by my son and I, and also because there is a new add-on/adventure to be released which is causing a little speculation around the Monster Warlord community.

The game is free.  Free with patience or paid if you want those perks that will hurry along the experience somewhat.  The best way to describe Monster Warlord is: Pokemon (Monster collection & battle).   You collect monsters, complete quests, form alliances battle monsters and all the things which you would expect from a Pokemon/Card Battle type system.

The "home" screen gives you access to all the area's of the game.  - You can also add my alliance code!
The “home” screen gives you access to all the area’s of the game. – You can also add my alliance code!

The game-play appears deceptively simple at first and whilst it will take some time to familiarise yourself with the menu system and the mechanics of the game, its a rewarding experience in that there is quite a bit of tactical play involved.  There are so many facet’s of your “monster card deck” that you can customize in order to complete quests, battle the “boss” monsters or indeed battle other players of similar standing.

You can create new monsters by combining two other (which if successful creates a more power and rarer creature).  Just like in a TCG (trading card game) there’s rare characters that are going to take much work (and luck) to get, this adds to the appeal of the game as well as the “gamble” aspect when you attempt to upgrade your current deck.

Personalization of your character of gives the game another level of depth with choices of Warrior, Tycoon or Ranger in addition to your monster pack.  (See tips below)

Free or Pay?

Monster Warlord manages to strike a nice balance between those who want to pay for a quicker/more powerful experience, but there’s nothing to say that the same cannot be achieved via invested time.    Recently Gamevil has come under fire for it’s freemium model, however I would say certainly for the case of Monster Warlord its rather fair.

I have also to mention about Gamevil customer service which is second to none.  After my lad wanted to make an in-game purchase and there was an error (at my end I believe) Gamevil staff responded and solved the problem via email correspondence in a matter of hours – great stuff!


Monster Warlord is a great game.  It’s very easy to give it five minutes and say “all you have to do to complete a quest is press the “do it” button” (which has been mentioned on other sites) however MW is far more than that.  There are some features I’d like to see added, for example have two live chat rooms (instead of just one) so that requests for alliances can be kept separate from those who wish to chat.  I’d also like to see the ability to search for a player (either by name or by alliance code)

There’s an add-on due for release – Monster Warlord Dungeons and maybe some of these items will be addressed then, in the meantime its a great game that you can devote as little or as much time to as you wish and still have a very enjoyable experience.  Recommended!


I’ve been playing this with my son for only a short period of time, but here are some tips which I can pass on and hopefully you can avoid some of the issues my deck has had when I’ve battled other players.

1. When you level up, put your points into energy and stamina – anything else is a waste.  I didn’t listen and found that the benefits of having higher attack can be matched with just buying a few more cards.

2. Join in alliance with as many players as you can.  See the links section below and download the app that assists you in adding alliances (if it works on your phone/tablet) – also check the link below for clan lists as well as keeping an eye on the live chat in-game.

3. Warrior is the best character class to choose.

4. Make sure you attack the world monster at least once – you will get jewels just for that.

5. Do sign up to the offers (usually just other free Gamevil titles) as you can earn jewels this way very easily.

6. If you want a strong attack then its the Dark monsters you should be looking at more, if its defence then Holy and for both Fire monsters will give more balanced points.

Some sites you may want to visit:

Monster Warlord Guide – A very good all round guide.

Clan Codes – Here you will find many players alliance codes that you can add to increase your deck.

There’s many more since Monster Warlord has quite a following.  Maybe you can add mine/my son’s character? 729 240 6202

Tim W

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Android: Arcane Legends – World of Warcraft for Android?

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imagesWhen talking about a multi-player on-line RPG, it’s hard not to draw comparison to World of Warcraft.  WoW, the game and social experience is very much a benchmark for any other title of the same genre.  WoW does have its critics and those that can be heard most loudly are those who write for the large mainstream outlets.  There’s nothing better than a story about addiction and social exclusion in respect of a computer game.  So Android has it’s own WoW? Will you be addicted? Will you give up your “real world” friends in order to play this game? Read on!

Whilst Android is spoilt for choice when it comes to RPG’s, there are not many titles which offer the same type of experience as WoW where users happily part with cash on a regular basis to be part of the imaginary world and socialize (and argue) in a virtual world akin to a social networking site (albeit with a fantasy sprite)

Arcane Legends is free.  I use the word “free” here quite loosely, its free to play, free to enjoy although I have to add in a “BUT” here.  I’ll discuss that a little further down the post though since its the gameplay and social experience that’s the first area of focus.

Arcane Legends offers three character classes to chose from: Fighter, Rogue or Mage and character creation is rather simple. Having chosen your name and class you can make some minor changes to the appearance of your character.  You also choose a pet, this companion will follow you to quests and lend assistance.  The pets offer extra bonuses and features – later in the game you can purchase/find/win more.

Perhaps the first example of Arcane Legends being a smaller title than WoW is the character creation.  With only three classes and no choice of gender, you can’t have a female Warrior or a Male Rogue (Mage doesn’t really have a gender and is sort of a Yoda/Gremlin)  The aesthetic changes to your character (face/hair) are minor, however its the plethora of armour and weapons throughout the game that will give your character a unique look.

005The game works very much like WoW in that you wander around, accept quests and talk to other NPC’s and users.  On my Samsung S3 some of the more popular area’s can look a little cluttered when there are many users congregating – this can be solved by zooming in the camera on the options menu.

Progression is quite quick too, giving you the motivation to continue on.

There’s plenty of weaponry and armour on offer.  You can form parties to tackle the more difficult dungeons/quests and you can create/join guilds.

The cost of being a hero

As I mentioned before Arcane Legends is free. It is entirely possible to complete the game without spending anything, however that would take a considerable amount of time and there’s special armour/weapons which can be purchased with ingame currency.  These purchases are not too expensive and will open up the game far quicker.


Arcane Legends is a great game, it’s the closest you will get to WoW on Android.  Whilst the game world is not a large as WoW (and there’s little chance of you getting lost) there’s many months of entertainment here.

The whole experience works surprisingly well on an Android phone and I’d expect even better on the larger form factor of a tablet.  You can also play Arcane Legends in the browser.

I’d like to have seen a little more variety on the base characters, maybe one or two more classes and the ability for each to be either male or female.  That being said, it has to be kept in mind that many will be playing this game on a smartphone and there needs to be a balance between complexity and the length of time users are envisioned to be playing.

I’d also liked to have had a hot-key for changing the camera zoom.  Presently you have to navigate the settings menu in order to zoom in and out (sometimes essential in the popular area’s where you are trying to interact with an NPC)

Arcane Legends is an excellent advert for games to come on the Android platform and whilst WoW has touted its own social universe for many years, Arcane Legends can do the same.

I’d give it a strong 4/5 for those RPG fans who have been looking for a portable multiplayer game – personally I would have liked a little more complexity, but then again, for me I’m playing it on the smaller smartphone form factor, so maybe the developers have the balance just right.




Android Review: Defence Zone 2

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splash_logoReleased on 10th January 2013 is Defence Zone 2 for the Android platform which I’ll be taking look at today.

Defence Zone 2 is the work of Artem Kotov and interestingly the game promises a Linux release in the future. You can visit the official website here:

Seriously, it’s like playing a TD game using the aerial view of Google Maps…


Well no its not and whilst the excited reviewer above gets a little too enthusiastic, the rest of us can take a step back and look at this with a level head.

Surprisingly Defence Zone 2 is the sequel to Defence Zone ;) in which you place different turrets and weapons in a manner akin to your traditional tower defence game.

The game itself is probably somewhere between Tower Defence and Command & Conquer although its far more simplistic allowing for a “straight into the action” game.

Graphically its very nice, although I think the Googlemaps comment is rather exaggerated and I’d rather describe it as Command and Conquer on crack.  It frantic, its fun and great for a quick blast.  The problem is though that addictive, simple games are easy to come by on Android and with advances in the smartphone world with games like Bards Tale mean that comments like “its great for a phone” no longer hold as much water as people demand (and expect) more involved games from their smart-phones.

The barrier has been raised as to what passes as a great Android game and unfortunately whilst good, Defence Zone 2 offers nothing which makes it stand out in a very crowded market.  Defence Zone 2 is available as a both free version and paid app.  I’d suggest you go for the free version, I can’t see this being played long enough to justify the cost.

Tim W (Tech Goblin)

Tim (Goblin)


Skype: tim.openbytes

Android Review: Zookeeper Battle

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zookeeperAfter accepting a phone upgrade from my service provider, I decided to embark on a mission of investigating some new Android software and for the first time found myself genuinely keen to download a game.  The game in question – Zookeeper. Why? Because its probably the one game I wasted months of my life to on the Nintendo DS (before giving over ownership of aforementioned DS to my kids)

So now I’m presented with the “adult” version of the same DS title.  I say adult because by my reckoning anything that goes on my phone is just as acceptable for adults to play as anyone else and I can fully justify wasting hours of time on a tile matching game featuring cute animals as long as its on my phone.

For those that do not know, Zookeeper is basically a matching game where you slide tiles in order to make rows of 3 or more animals, for that you are awarded points.  Where the Android version differs from the DS title is that online “battles” are fought by two players connecting, playing their level and then the scores of each being compared and “damage” being attributed (depending on how successful or not you were).  When your opponents health runs out, you win.  If there is no winner by the 5th round then the winner is decided by the one with the most health.  The game is as much as luck (getting a good set of animal tiles to work with) as it is skill.

Your opponents are selected randomly from around the world, the pre/post match chat is safe in that there are only a few generic greetings you can give.  You have a world ranking (mine is currently at a poor 200k) and there’s tournaments, gifts and bonuses to be had (including achievements to give you perks).

Zookeeper is free, you can pay for extra gaming perks – but these are certainly not required.  The game is not ruined with adverts and providing that doesn’t change you have a great title here for your Android device which should not require a very powerful CPU at all.

Graphically, its colourful and simple, but the real charm of this game is its addictive quality.  The only disappointment is that the monotonous DS theme has been changed subtly (and not for the better in my view) and its also absent from the game.  Why would I want such a theme playing non-stop? Because part of addiction was having the tune running around in your head long after you’d stopped playing.

Tim (Goblin)


Skype: tim.openbytes

Microsoft Surface midnight release – Seriously?

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I think queues like this are the last thing we will see for a Microsoft product and after it’s attempt at a “midnight release” of Surface, I think, yet again another PR stunt by Microsoft will leave them with egg on their face.

One thing Microsoft has is a thick skin.  Over the last few years they have put me in mind of that person probably most of us know.  The one who whilst doesn’t get invited to parties always manages to invite themselves.  The one who lives off past “glories” with a big, brash attitude that always claims to be doing something better than everyone else.  The friend who whatever you are doing is always doing themselves – and claiming to do it better.  Of course when examined more closely the truth is rather different and whilst this friend is talking about all the great things they will do, others are actually doing them.

Despite it’s apparent failure to grasp the Smartphone market with its WP7 – which to this day I have found is rarer to observe in the “wild” than a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Microsoft moves pasts the apathetic consumer who are far more interested with the new form factors hosting platforms from Apple or Google with news of its midnight release (on the 26th of October) of its surface tablet.

Steve Ballmer may be convinced that the Surface systems will fly off the shelves, and Redmond will beissuing around 93,000 to full-time employees, but a midnight launch could be overdoing it, in The Reg’s opinion.


We’ve heard about Steve Ballmer’s “thinking” before.  Remember his comments on the iPhone? or how about the allegation he once said he was to “f*cking bury Google”? – I expect this will be another case of what Steve Ballmer thinks, doesn’t quite tally with reality.

One commenter from Usenet on  comp.os.linux.advocacy (Chris) makes the following observation:

I’m sure Microsoft will pack the gallery with willing shills who will, aided by the unwitting press, convince the “marks” that this things is a “must have”.

To which I agree, furthermore it will be presented in a loud and brash Steve Ballmer package that will attempt to push it onto the consumer.  Of course in the real world, people don’t seem to be talking much about Microsoft’s offerings.  They certainly didn’t like the Kin, the WP7 sales figures are what? poor at best? And Windows 8 is not exactly being anticipated with great excitement (unlike with 7 which came off the back of Vista) Windows 7 (if people are even off XP yet) is not really in need of the fix Vista was.

My sceptical mind has me thinking that people turning up to this midnight launch of Microsoft’s, will certainly be more than just “average consumers” but for the camera, I’m sure they will be hyperactive, happy, Microsoft consumers.  Lets hope if Microsoft is making a PR stunt of sorts out of this that they fair far better than when they tried it with the “iPhone funeral” stunt.

Are you going to queue up at midnight or at any other time for this Microsoft effort? – From listening to others I’d say no and in a few months time, the Surface scheme of Ballmer’s will be languishing in the same place as WP7.  Apathy by the consumer as a whole.  There’s no doubt Apple and Google have the hearts and minds of the consumer on a whole, infact I would go so far as to say that with the current high Apple are on, they could probably sell a wet toilet roll with the Apple logo on it and have people queuing up all day.

This year has already given us some excellent tablets, from the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 to the Google Nexus 7 – and don’t forget those iPad Mini rumours that, if proved, could seriously scupper Microsoft’s plans.

With that in mind, a midnight launch could be a risky strategy. Although we’ve no doubt Microsoft are aiming to build up some inertia for the Windows Phone 8 launch on October 29, a mere four days later.


And where is the WP7 now? Where will it be in Microsoft’s mind when they want to sell you 8? – I’ll let you come to your own conclusions.


Skype: tim.openbytes


APP FOCUS: Blowtorch 1.1.3 for Android & a consideration of MUD

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Fantasy and adventure await you in a MUD, you will though have to rely on your age old skills of reading and imagination!

I am encouraged by the the release of ebook readers and their massive popularity.  As readers of this blog and listeners to the audio-cast will know, I am not a big fan of TV & Film, infact if it wasn’t for the PS3 and the once a year tradition of Doctor Who, I’d happily throw the insidious device away.  Maybe the book will start to gain more ground on the film?  You are probably wondering where I am headed with this article, but all will be revealed.

In the days when computers relied on imagination instead of overbearing fx- a concept sadly lost on many of the current generation and in the days when films were not pumped out at a rate of warp 10 to a apathetic consumer who slurp down the latest Hollywood “great” with a figurative “Please sir can I have some more?”, there was this strange pastime called reading books.  Whats that? I hear many people exclaim! Where’s the SFX? where’s the over-payed shallow actors and actresses?  Where’s the glitz and glamour? Where’s the Hollywood fat cat raking in money from a film with a plot so thin that a pondscater could not hope to walk across it without falling in?

Enough! I’ll bring this article back on track.  In the early days of home computing (and still now) the idea of a MUD was almost as an extension of the book, albeit interactive.  Think text adventure game but more open ended and the facility to play alongside other people online.  For those not old enough or those who have never played, MUD stands for Multi User Dungeon.

Essentially Blowtorch is an app that brings these MUD’s to Android in a simple to use client and doing it surprisingly well.  I’ve covered AndroMUD before on a smart-phone form factor, so with my recent purchase of a budget tablet (Arnova 10 G2 – running Gingerbread on a 10.1inch screen) I decided to see how the experience translates to the larger form factor by way of a new client to me (Blowtorch v1.1.3)

Perhaps the best thing about MUD gaming is that it covers a diverse range of genres.  For those interested in taking a look at the sheer scale available, I recommend a visit to the MUDconnector which highlights many such games actively played right now.  Think MUD games have a small user-base? At time of writing this, a very good MUD called Aardwolf has over players 400 online!

Simple clean interface allows for a great MUD experience on Tablet or mobile.

Blowtorch is happy played with either the tablet in portrait or Landscape orientation, although the latter provides the better experience since lines end when they should rather than being prematurely cut off and wrapped around on the next line.

As you would expect, a press on the input box will bring up the touch keyboard.  Blowtorch offers support for programmable and readily available on screen buttons and anyone who has played a MUD before will appreciate the need for shortcuts et al.

Setting up the server on which you play is very simple and theres every conceivable function available for experience MUD players too.

Blowtorch is free and hardly pushes any tablets hardware in terms of demand on the system.  Whilst this article is primarily about the Android platform, you will find MUD clients of various shapes and sizes on literally any platform/OS you can think of.

Whatever your platform, I hope you will give consideration to taking a look at the world of MUD.  Fed up with the dumbing down of Warcraft or Elderscrolls? – there are some stat heavy MUD’s out there which will please even the most demanding of stat crazy rpg’rs!  From sci-fi to swords and dragons, Batman to Bart Simpson – there’s a MUD game to suit everyone’s interest!  And you can find a diverse range of them under the spotlight at MudConnector.

A few years back I covered another MUD client (AndroMUD) which I found was ideally suited to a small screen (in this case an HTC Hero/Desire) you can read that article here:

Tim (Goblin)

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

Skype: tim.openbytes