The “Ransom System”

The “Ransom System” is what i’ve been calling a common trend on level-based games where your level progress is wiped upon game over, unless you pay some virtual currency (with the option to buy more of that virtual currency, of course). I’ve seen this on several games lately, not sure how long it’s been around and whether it’s a recent trend.

Now, i understand the logic at work here. If your game doesn’t rely on procedurally generated content to create infinite gameplay, then your game will eventually end regardless of whether the player was already bored of it or not. So this mechanic is applied to artificially lengthen the game, and delay that end point as much as possible.

This is nothing new, of course; this began all the way back in the arcade generation as a way to get more quarters from the players. One might argue this is just harkening back to that era, “not holding hands”, but this isn’t that era anymore, and players have thousands of games at their fingertips at any point. While i lack any data to back this up, i’d find it hard to believe that the most common response to this mechanic is to purchase virtual currency, as opposed to just stop playing.

So what would be a better way to monetise non-procedural games? I would argue that having a paid version in addition to a free version, the former with unlimited continues (and no ads) and the latter with no continues whatsoever, would work best than this hybrid version where you’re paying to continue.

Some games do have IAPs that offer this free/paid system, but the issue is that the IAP isn’t discovered until *after* you’ve lost and are being held ransom, which lowers goodwill. As long as it’s made explicit to the player that they’re starting off on a limited version, perhaps even skinning the title screen as a trial version until the IAP is paid, then i think this could also be a better alternative.

If the player chooses a free version instead of a paid version, with the knowledge that it is a “trial” version and their progress won’t be kept, i would argue that they would then be more willing to upgrade to a full version if they enjoyed the game. Because at that point it would be the player’s active choice to upgrade to a better system, as opposed to feeling forced to prolong their current system.

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