By Kristin Bezio
So during the holidays I was traveling sans Xbox, which meant I had to find some other way to fill the hours. Since Peter Molyneux’s Godus is available on iOS for free, it seemed like a good alternative.
The first several hours kept me entertained and amused. It made me very much want to keep playing. As a former Civilization (I, II, III, and IV) junkie, Godus reached back into that warm fuzzy place that I reserve for fond memories of exploration, scientific advancement, and conquering Elizabeth with my Russian Cossacks as Catherine the Great. There’s the exploration of the land, leading your followers to good settlement sites, plus the added ability to terraform the environment into pleasing and practical shapes, which makes your followers run about and worship you.
There are also resources to be mined – rock you can harvest for pink globules that are your deity power and little buried treasure chests that help to unlock additional powers. As you unlock more of these, you can build shrines, farms, mines, and other useful structures which increase your followers’ happiness and your influence.
So far, so good.
Until you rapidly run out of influence, which can be purchased for a low-low in-game price. So can happiness. And several things that gain you happiness. Which, no matter how much you plant holy forests or make it rain, your people will cease to possess and will start defecting. They will abandon their houses and farms unless you cough up real money.
I hate in-app purchases. Really, really hate them.
Godus is an example of a game termed a “pay-to-win” game. It just isn’t possible to make your people HAPPY without spending real money. And without keeping them happy, your progress and expansion slows down dramatically. The entire game becomes a slow scroll over the map to pop little pink bubbles over all the buildings. But you could save yourself the effort by building shrines which cost gold… which is so dismally scarce that you should really just buy it.
You get the idea.
Freemium games don’t have to be this way. For instance Plants vs. Zombies 2 is a free-to-play game with in-app purchases that aren’t necessary to win. Would they make it easier? Sure. But I can still play my way through the campaign without too much trouble.
What happened in Godus is pretty much the opposite of godhood. Sure, for the first five or ten hours I was having a grand old time. But after that, I ceased to feel like a benevolent god and started feeling more like a powerless shill enslaved to the almighty god of capitalistic exploitation. I’ve talked before about how I hate the concept of free-to-play (and, especially, pay-to-win) games, but there are thresholds even within that construct.
The problem with Godus is that it strips away your power – the entire point of the game – in order to coerce you into giving them money. At least games like The Simpsons: Tapped Out and Plants vs. Zombies 2 don’t cripple your gameplay in order to manipulate you into giving them your money. They want your money – of course they do, and developers who put in hard work ought to get your money if you enjoy their games – but they aren’t viciously mercenary about it. I’d infinitely prefer a game like Continue… or Monument Valley that asks for my money upfront, which I will then pay (and have done so) before playing the game.
Ultimately, Godus suffers from the same problem as most pay-to-win games, plus the added bonus of boredom and drudgery after about fifteen hours (and many people would likely get bored before then, but I kept hoping I’d manage to unlock something cool that would help). I wanted to like it, I really did, particularly because of Civilization-nostalgia, but I just couldn’t get past the paywall.