microtransactions

Last week, most of us were thrilled when Monster Burner launched as a free Xbox Windows Phone game. Surprisingly, a few days later Monster Burner is no longer free; it now sells for a dollar. The only other time an Xbox Windows Phone game has gone up in price (Angry Birds and ilomilo promotions excluded)  was Miniclip’s Fling jumping from 99 cents to a too-high $2.99 last year.

Monster Burner was free on iOS before it got pulled and relies heavily on In-App Purchases. Now that it costs a buck, should you still get it? Read on to find out...

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The Xbox on Windows Phone lineup, on the whole is far too casual for some gamers’ tastes. Xbox Live features have attracted a sizable minority of Xbox 360 fans to Microsoft’s mobile platform, where they find an abundance of puzzle games and a disarmingly small number of established gaming franchises. Microsoft does sometimes throw the hardcore crowd a bone though, as evidenced by the recent release of Crimson Dragon Side Story. Not only does Side Story tie into the upcoming Xbox console game Crimson Dragon’s fascinating universe, but it’s also one of the more robust and ambitious mobile Xbox games in sometime.

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While Sid Meier’s Pirates! is arriving on Xbox Live this Wednesday, Microsoft has already announced next week’s new title as well. It will be Monster Island from Miniclip.

Monster Island is basically a monster-themed version of Fragger. Instead of a grenadier, you’re now a monster who must defeat invading monsters. Aim and throw five different kinds of monster grenades to destroy your stationary enemies. With four huge sets of levels, it offers plenty of bomb-throwing fun.  Being a Miniclip title, Monster Island will also feature optional microtransactions, allowing players to purchase level skips and solutions with Microsoft Points.

Monster Island comes to Windows Phone on Wednesday, April 18 and will cost $2.99. If you’d like to try it sooner, check out the Flash version at Miniclip.com.

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We mentioned a few weeks ago that Babaroga’s survival horror-themed board game, Zombies!!! (review) would soon be receiving its first PDLC expansion pack, known as ‘Zombies!!! 3.5: Not Dead Yet!’ As it turns out, the expansion has quietly slipped onto the Marketplace and won’t require a new title update. Finding it might prove a challenge though – you have to actually start a New Game and then select Expansion Packs from the top of the screen. While ‘Not Dead Yet!’ may not be easy to find, its price is fairly easy to swallow: 160 MS Points ($2), a bit lower than anticipated.

Head past the break for WPCentral’s exclusive detailed descriptions of the expansion’s contents, hands-on impressions, and Achievement tips.

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Windows Phone Xbox Live Review: Bug Village

For the longest time, microtransactions were prohibited in Windows Phone games. Microsoft’s Beards & Beaks dabbled in offering PDLC (premium downloadable content) last July. But no third party games offered PDLC until Gravity Guy’s January update. Before you can buy extra stuff for those games, you’ll first need to purchase the game itself. Bug Village, on the other hand, is the only freemium Xbox Live title so far. The game itself is completely free; developer Glu Mobile makes its profits from the title’s optional content purchases. While this style of game won’t be for everybody, you can color me excited for the potential of future freemium Live titles.

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Now that Bug Village has launched, we can finally examine the freemium game’s PDLC in detail. The vast majority of the game’s PDLC is associated with coins, though players can also buy acorns if they prefer not to wait for the in-game harvesting process. Everyone receives 10 free coins upon starting the game. Unfortunately, the tutorial strong-arms you into using one or two coins unless you’re content to leave the game running while the first house and piles are built. Thus most players will end up with 8 coins to spend once the tutorial ends.

Coins are good for two things: speeding up tasks and buying premium items. See, tasks like building houses and farming resources take time to complete. The times start at 15 minutes and stretch into the hours from there; thankfully players are usually given a choice of three different lengths of time when harvesting items. The longer you harvest, the more Acorns and XP you’ll earn. But if you’d like to skip out on the waiting and instantly complete a building or task, it will cost one more coins, depending on the time involved.

As for premium items, they include buildings, decorations, food, piles, and flowers. All of these things look different from the non-premium versions, and some offer greater benefits. For instance, premium buildings produce extra insects compared to regular buildings, which would have to be upgraded in order to achieve the same effect. Premium decorations are purely aesthetic, though they do contribute toward the Achievement for placing 50 decorations. Premium piles and flowers produce greater rewards than low-end versions, but are surpassed by high end flowers and acorns. Premium piles and flowers have much lower level requirements though, so they may be worth buying early on in the game (especially the Wonder Crocus).

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When Gravity Guy launched last year, two of its Achievements were unavailable to players. This was not due to glitches but by design – quite unusual for an Xbox Live game. Fast forward to today and Gravity Guy’s version 1.1 update has arrived. It packs quite a lot for an update, including a few surprises.

Gravity Guy version 1.1 release notes:

  • Added Fast App Switching support
  • Added the Rescue chapter to Story Mode (29 new levels)
  • Added paid DLCs:
    Slowdowns: Slows down the game for 90 seconds. It's like "bullet time"

The paid DLC (PDLC) is the big news here. Gravity Guy has officially become the first third-party Xbox Live game to offer PDLC, a bit ahead of Bug Village and Zombies!!!. Players automatically get three free Slowdowns, which can be used by tapping the new icon in the top-left corner of the screen. Slowdowns typically last for about one and a half levels – if the player doesn’t make any mistakes. Use up your free Slowdowns and it costs 160 Microsoft Points ($2) to buy a pack of 5 more.

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Last week, WPCentral revealed that Bug Village would be the first freemium game on Windows Phone. We shared a few details about how it would work and promised more to come. Here then is the next installment of our Xbox Live Developer Interview series. This time, we grill Mike DeLaet of Glu Mobile about Bug Village’s revolutionary features and the challenges of bringing a freemium game to Xbox Live.

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As the Windows Phone game library continues to grow, a few types of games remain conspicuously absent: role-playing games, first-person shooters, and freemium games. The first two are well-established genres (on other platforms), but the term freemium is a bit different. It’s not really a genre, but a business model. Freemium games are free to play but also have optional (or semi-optional) premium content for users to purchase. There hasn’t been a proper freemium Xbox 360 game yet, but they’re quite common on PC and iOS: Farmville, Smurf Village, and even many MMO games utilize the freemium business model.

Windows Phone kinda-sorta has a freemium game already: Haypi Kingdom. However, Microsoft shot down its in-game transaction model, forcing players to email the developer outside of the game in order to purchase coins. The neutering of Haypi Kingdom raised the question: when, if ever would the big MS officially allow games with microtransactions on Windows Phone? That’s surely the number one thing keeping Zynga away from the platform, after all.

The times they are a-changing, my friends. WPCentral is pleased to announce that a freemium game is officially coming to Windows Phone, and it’s an Xbox Live title to boot! That bleeding edge title is Bug Village, first announced back in August and from the fine folks at Glu Mobile (with porting duties handled by Babaroga). Bug Village really is an important title for the platform. Gamers might remember how Microsoft’s own Beards & Beaks included paid DLC, but the game itself costs money. Bug Village establishes the freemium model for the platform, making it more than a simple iOS port.

What kind of game is Bug Village? Why, it’s a city-building game, much like the aforementioned Smurf Village. The object is to build the biggest and best village with the help of your faithful insect army. Building things costs resources, of which there are two types: acorns and coins. While players can obtain acorns through normal gameplay, coins will cost real-world money. Bug Village has another goal on top of just building: to unlock Achievements! There are 200 GamerScore worth of Achievements to earn. We were previously told freemium games would be limited to 100 GamerScore, but Microsoft recently decided to allow all mobile games the full 200 regardless of business model.

We’ve just scratched the tip of the iceberg on Bug Village’s payment model and features. To find out more, check back next weekend for our Glu Mobile Xbox Live Developer Interview.

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Developer Interview: Babaroga, makers of Zombies!!!

Zombies!!! (review) was one of the first Xbox Live games I bought after jumping on the Windows Phone bandwagon. A survival horror-themed board game, it’s like nothing else on the platform. The game’s developer, Babaroga has made it no secret that they are working on a major update for the game. That’s good because I hate secrets almost as much as black licorice. Putting the devil candy aside for the moment, WPCentral is excited to bring you something much tastier: our interview with Andreja Djokovic, CEO and Founder of Babaroga, about their future plans for the Zombies!!! franchise and Windows Phone.

Grab a snack if you like and head past the jump for the full interview.

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Since we initially mentioned Haypi Kingdom, the first Massively Multi-player Online game for Windows Phone 7, the game has been updated twice. These updates come as no surprise - MMOs are huge, constantly evolving games. Let's look at what's been added or tweaked. Note that we've edited these a little for clarity and inserted our own comments.

Haypi Kingdom version 2.10.0.0 change log:

  • Enhancement system added: You can improve your current equipment with enhancement stones, which can be attained via hunting, daily gift, competition or purchased from NPC. The enhancements can be made to create additional attribute points to your current equipment, enhancing your prowess on the battlefield.
  • Two new chest types (Gold and Silver) added: These special chests can be gained from war or as daily gifts. They need to be unlocked by coins and there are many alluring surprises in them including coins or valuable treasure. You can also choose to sell the chest to get money.

There's a lot more after the jump...

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Remember when we discussed the debut of Haypi Kingdom, the first MMO for Windows Phone 7? We were surprised to see a free to play game that is supported by microtransactions make it onto Microsoft’s mobile platform. After all, doesn’t Microsoft prohibit microtransactions in Windows Phone 7 games?

Developer Haypi Inc. kindly straightened out the matter for us. As it turns out, microtransactions are indeed forbidden on the platform. That’s why games like The Sims 3 that have lots of optional purchasable content on iPhone don’t offer the same downloadable content on WP7.

So how does Haypi Kingdom manage to sell players in-game coins for real life money? PayPal! You see, coins aren’t purchased through the client itself. When a player decides to make an optional coin purchase, the game launches an external web browser. Purchases are made through PayPal’s site, not the actual game, so Haypi Kingdom isn’t breaking any rules. UPDATE: The workaround has been removed - currently there's no in-game method for purchasing coins.

Haypi Kingdom’s payment model works the same way on Google’s Android platform, where microtransactions are also prohibited. Before coming to Windows Phone 7, Haypi Kingdom had already made a name for itself on Android and iPhone.

To read more on this ground breaking game and the Press Release from Haypi, follow the break.

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While Xbox Live games for Windows Phone 7 continue to remain online-only affairs, that hasn’t stopped indie developers from creating games with online play. Lately we saw Broiled Earth, a competitive artillery game, and now thanks to Haypi Kingdom, Microsoft’s mobile platform has its first MMO (Massively-Multiplayer Online game).

The game's description, according to Haypi Kingdom’s official website:

Haypi Kingdom is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). You will be a general directing an ancient kingdom in a strategic game - boosting resource production, adventuring in extensive wild land, reaping legendary treasures, equipping your troops with advanced abilities and fighting against enemies - with the ultimate goal of becoming the strongest kingdom in the ancient world. Your general can get higher title and more advanced attributes as he joins more and more battles. His attributes will be shared among his troops as well.

You won't play alone. In this massive multiplayer online game you will be able to interact with thousands of players from all over the world in a competition for fame, power, wealth and glory. What's more, there are plenty of possibilities to interact with others - Not only offense and defense, but also trade, alliance, mail system, chat system, etc.

Of special note is Haypi Kingdom’s revenue model. The game is free to play, but players can purchase in-game coins through optional microtransactions.

Coins can be used to speed up upgrades, enhance resource production, buy VIP time to add upgrading slots, buy resource or treasures, call back troops, and enhance your city loyalty immediately, etc. Coins can only [be] purchased with real money at "SHOP". Each player is awarded 30 coins when they first play the game.

Basically, coins allow impatient players to speed up various processes in the game. Smurf Village on iPhone and of course Farmville use similar payment models.

We previously heard from another developer that microtransactions were prohibited on Microsoft's mobile platform, so it’s surprising to see that may not be the case. Micro payments would certainly open up the door for more popular online games to come to WP7.

Gamers who are interested in a social role-playing experience on Windows Phone 7 can get Haypi Kingdom for free here (opens a link to your Zune software) on the Marketplace. We’ll have a full review of the game soon.

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