About 15 days ago I bought the game Muffin Knight for $2.99 from the Android Market. Muffin Knight is a freemium game. Maybe that's not a completely precise label due to the $2.99 upfront cost but the point is that there is an in-game currency that players can purchase more of with real dollars. This in-game currency, stars, is used to level up your characters, to acquire new skills, and to increase your health points. Usually you get 1 star for each level you reach. A back-of-the hand calculation reveals that you would need about 150 stars to unlock everything. That's quite a lot of levelling.
About 15 years ago I was young and very interested in cheating in computer games. In fact - and literally nobody who reads this blog post knows this - the first app I wrote for public consumption was a cheat database. Its competitive advantage over other cheat databases was that mine had a save game patching engine. It allowed you to patch save game files for games included in the database and it allowed you to extend that engine with your own save game cheats. The commercial success of this program was $10, a pity buy from a friend. It's social success was worse, as one of my school teachers commented in my website guestbook. This was considered deeply uncool at the time. Later I also wrote a few game trainers (the ones where you get extra money by pressing certain key combinations) for Windows games.
Nowadays, while playing Muffin Knight, I am starting to feel an old itch again that I have not felt in a while. I am now a level 62 Muffin Knight with most expensive things unlocked. I need about 50 more stars to unlock the rest just to reach the feeling of having beaten the game completely. 50 stars go for $4.99 if I buy them the official way or they go for nothing if I modify the save game. I have not actually looked into modifying Muffin Knight save games yet but according to http://forum.xda-developers.com/archive/index.php/t-1395221.html save games can be traded so I don't see why they could not be modified. And even if they could not be modified, I have plenty of means to change the program code of Muffin Knight or modify the memory of the running process. In the end, I am sure that I could get the 50 stars for free using some sort of cheat technique.
I am wondering what the moral implications of this are. Back in the old days, I only wrote cheats and trainers for single-player games. Using such cheats never hurt anybody. The game developers had already been paid. The lack of other players meant that only the player who chooses to cheat is affected. Everything is morally in the clear here. But what about freemium single player games like Muffin Knight? I already paid $2.99 to get the game. Does that make it OK to use cheats to access in-game content?
Let's separate things out a bit. There are freemium games like Muffin Knight and there are freemium games like Paradise Island and Tap Fish. Their freemium mechanics are very similar with one significant difference. Muffin Knight is structured kind of like Diablo 2. Getting everything in these games is an unbearable grind but it's possible. Getting everything in Paradise Island or Tap Fish is basically not possible unless you reach a biblical age or punch your credit card number into the right form. I call games from the second category 'unsafe for children scam apps'. They are really just wallet openers hiding behind pretty colors. If anybody cheats in games of this category I am not going to shed a single tear.
Now I am wondering what the closest analogy of freemium content to games of 15 years ago is. I think an optionally purchasable piece of in-game content is closest to an expansion pack. It's a tiny expansion pack but it is one. You pay money to add something to the game. Think of the purchased stars in Muffin Knight as less of an in-game currency and more of what you can get for them: three extra classes and more health points. From this point of view I would have a problem cheating in Muffin Knight. The developers offer an expansion pack for purchase and just because I could cheat my way into having it is no different than downloading an old PC game expansion pack off some torrent site.
I think for now I will keep grinding Muffin Knight but I am interested in what other people think about this.
I have also noticed a disturbing lack of cheats for Android games which might tie in with the general theme of this topic. What's the deal here? Lack of tools, lack of interest, problems with morality of stealing freemium content? Tools are available, Dalvik is easy to understand. It's been a long time since getting into game cheating has been so easy.
Great to have you back in the blogosphere, sp! I was fearing we'd lost you there for a while
I agree with #1 anonymous. I think you should have no ethical concerns about this manner of cheating. I look at it like this: if the upgrade that you buy does not supply any genuinely new bits (executable code, images, icons, maps, themes, textures, whatever), then there is no foul in cheating that upgrade.
I have no personal qualms with companies making money from simple counter-incrementing upgrades but they should also be honest enough with themselves and their customers to ignore cheaters in these situations. Those companies should feel lucky to be able to make as much money as easily as they do.