Ngmoco has been talking up its new offerings for a while now, including the visually stunning first-person shooter Eliminate, and the virtual pet Touch Pets series of apps. Both of these are now available, free of charge, on the App Store, as of yesterday.
Even though the apps are indeed free to download and install on your device, it should be noted that both of these apps represent the latest attempts to capitalize on Apple’s in-app purchasing system, in perhaps some of the most diabolical ways yet. ngmoco has recently used in-app purchasing to sell level packs for Rolando 2, which can now be downloaded for free with Chapter 1 included.
Eliminate (Free, iTunes Link)
Space marines, jumping, shooting, glowy surrounding, what more could you ask for? Eliminate is the first fully functional, original IP (not that we’re saying it isn’t derivative, mind you) first-person shooters to hit the iPhone platform, and it’s been highly anticipated as a result. It features global matchmaking for multiplayer combat over both 3G and Wi-Fi networks. Sorry, no EDGE, but it probably couldn’t handle the action anyway.
There’s also Plus+ network integration so you can track your stats and invite your friends and contacts to go toe-to-toe in deathmatches, and compare stats on the leader board. And the game includes a leveling and credit for weapon and armor upgrades and customization. Sounds pretty good, right? Now the bad news.
Eliminate is free to play, but it definitely gives you an advantage to pay. As the cleverly designed opening sequence relates, you are equipped with a set amount of energy in Eliminate, and when said energy runs out, you no longer earn credits for kills. Energy refills over time, or you can simply buy more using the in-app purchasing system. Credits allow you to upgrade weapons and armor.
You start with 30 power cells of energy. Based on my trials, that will probably last you about 10 to 15 minutes of play, if that, though I’m not sure of the actual conversion rate. Once you expend any points, a countdown clock starts until you charge again. The clock lasts around 240 minutes, so you are recharged every four hours, basically. You can buy additional power cells in blocks of 20, 280, and 975 for 99 cents, $9.99 and $29.99 respectively if you’re not the patient type.
The game is fun, and works surprisingly well given the touch controls you’re stuck with on an iPhone or iPod touch, and you can practice against bots or play without earning credits for free any time you want. All of which means that ngmoco is being pretty fair with its use of in-app purchasing this time around. Basically, you pay to progress, but the game is still enjoyable by all without that aspect. It’s a nice blend, and one that I predict will be hugely successful once Eliminate hits wide release.
Touch Pets Dogs (Free, iTunes Link)
I admit to once having owned a tamagotchi. Or if not owned, at least permanently on loan from my sister. The problem, of course, was that they always proved more of a nuisance than anything else. All of the demands of a real pet, and none of the benefits, like companionship or snuggle-ability.
Touch Pets Dogs follows in the footsteps of Nintendogs and other pet simulators before it. You pick out a puppy, name it, and then begin taking care of, playing with, and training it. It has a Sims-like interface for checking on your dog’s skills and happiness level, and even their Job status, which is a unique feature introduced by the ngmoco sim. You can train your dog to follow a career path, which makes it even more like The Sims.
There’s actually a lot to do in Touch Pet Dogs, and you gain levels as a dog owner in different areas, just like your dog can gain skills and job levels. It’s much richer than any other pet sim I’ve played, and it managed to keep my interest for more than one play-through, which is a record I think.
The in-app purchasing component to Touch Pets is fairly devious, though. You have to pay for food, which seems extremely cruel, since it’s such a basic necessity for your dog’s well-being. Luckily, your food automatically refills to a maximum of two bowls, and does so relatively quickly, so you can still play without having to cough up micropayments, but it will be harder to keep your dog hale and hearty. You can also buy more Puppy Bucks by converting food that you buy via iTunes.
The Future of iPhone Gaming?
Both of these new games from ngmoco show different types of attempts at capitalizing on the iPhone’s in-app purchasing system. It’s a thorny issue to navigate, since on the one hand, you could stand to make a lot more money than by selling apps in a more traditional manner, but on the other, you could inspire the rancor of your customers if you appear to be using the system unfairly. In my opinion, ngmoco’s done a good job of treading that thin line thus far, and it looks like they’re committed to making changes to make sure they strike the right balance.