Dreamingame's Flight Tycoon for iOS devices, shown above, is the bane of my addictive existence.
To paraphrase actor Robert Downey Jr., in a scene playing billionaire Tony Stark in the movie Iron Man:
"Let's face it, this is not the worst thing you've caught me doing."
There is certain shame to being caught in the act of addiction that only those of us with addictive personalities truly understand. Downey, a reformed alcoholic and drug user in real life, probably understands this better than any of us.
Today my wife found out about my App habit. And it was completely humiliating.
Let's roll back the last several months. I travel a lot for a living, so my go-to friend for relieving my in-airport and on-aircraft boredom has been my iPad.
To burn some of the time hanging out in airport lounges and restaurants waiting to board an aircraft, and the two and a half hours I spend flying back and forth to New York on my weekly trips, I browse web sites, I read my email, and I check in on my social networks.
I also play a whole assortment of games that I download from Apple's App Store. Typical user behavior, right? I probably download 20 or 30 new apps a month, many of which I quickly grow tire of and delete.
Many of them are the kind of games that are free to download, but in order to remove the ads, you pay a nominal fee. I've got a bunch of those I've paid for because the advertisements interrupting each game round or level become tiresome, and I like the game enough that I have no problem supporting the developers.
Words with Friends and Draw Something are good examples of this.
Other games, like Rovio's Angry Birds HD or Bad Piggies HD are completely ad-free, but you have to pay money for them. If it's a really good game, I've got no problem with that either.
Then there is an entirely other class of "freemium" game, which order to progress, you have to spend real money through in-app purchases.
Most of these games are very similar to FarmVille -- you have to "build" infrastructure and then collect "income", in order to build out more infrastructure that is more "profitable" and then expand your friend networks so you can continue to expand your infrastructure and make more virtual "money."
Virtual "money", which of course is completely worthless in anything other than the game itself.
Vlogger Jenna Marbles did a funny YouTube segment about this over the summer. My wife made me watch it today, because she thought it perfectly mirrored my situation. FYI, her language in this clip is totally NSFW, so be prepared for a lot of F-bombs.
As Jenna explains in the video, with a huge amount of patience and diligently checking into these games every day, you can progress, but not as far as you would as if you say, buy a $10 pack of "Jewels" or "Gold" or "Credits" or whatever. All of which are treated as an entirely different currency than the "income" you generate in the game.
With this type of in-game money that you buy via in-app purchases, you can buy special stuff that your income currency can't buy, like special revenue-generating buildings, machines, what have you.
But it's not like you're actually winning anything or achieving a goal. It's just this... thing you have to maintain or you fall behind. And whether these games involve building "farms" or "hotels" or "restaurants" or "stores" the concepts and game dynamics are all very similar.
And I swore, absolutely swore to myself I would never get sucked into one of these things. When FarmVille first premiered on Facebook several years ago I told everyone that I would reject any request to start a farm. It's a dumb game that was completely pointless and it was intrusive.
So a couple of months ago I started looking for games on the iPad that were strategy/simulation-type, the kind you could play for a few minutes at a time over long periods. Like the classic Sid MeierRailroad Tycoon or Civilization kind of things.
I tried a bunch of these out, but I got bored with them after a few hours of play. Then I came across this game called Flight Tycoon, which is developed by a company called Dreamingame based in China.
It turns out a lot of the companies that build these freemium addiction-prone games are based out of China, Korea and other major developing countries. You think the Huawei and ZTE situation is scary? Think about how much cash is being sucked out of our economy by Chinese mobile game developers. But I digress.
Flight Tycoon drew me in because it was sort of like the Sid Meier simulation games. And I really liked the airport theme, especially since I get so frustrated in real life by airport delays and I wish I could just make those planes take off.
I... Just... Want... Them... To... Take... Off.
It had pretty graphics, and it was really easy to play. The economic model is pretty simple: you're given a starter airport, with a certain number of "Pads" that airplanes can be parked in. You have aircraft that you can buy with your starter cash (that you also have to purchase fuel for with your virtual profits) which can fly to another airport "friend" that the developer gives you by default.
By flying your aircraft back and forth between airports, you earn more cash that allows you to buy more airplanes, have more flights, and also expand your airport with more Pads, which makes your airport more "prosperous". Which in turn allow you to buy newer, faster, longer range, more fuel efficient aircraft.
You can continue to grow provided you add more "friends". And the further a friend's airport is away from your airport, the more cash a plane (provided it has the range) can generate.
I've gotten to the point where I'm at level 43. The maximum level on the game appears to be 50, and I've essentially maxxed out my earnings capability. To get to level 50 and have higher levels of prosperity you have to spend real money.
I've already done this two or three times, at $5 or $10 a pop.
Last night I pulled the trigger and bought 400 gold coins, as well as a wing of ten F-15 fighter jets. Because they were free with any gold coin purchase. Oh! What a bargain!
Well this morning I woke up and picked up my iPad. I had a forwarded email from my wife from American Express, who had flagged my card for what they thought were four fraudulent charges. My wife was in the kitchen cooking breakfast, and told me I had to call in and deal with it, so I got on the phone with AMEX to find out what the hell was going on.
I put the AMEX rep on speaker so my wife could hear.
Two of them were legit charges from the Apple Store -- I had ordered $100 worth of accessories for my new iPhone 5, but I had forgotten to change my billing address when I moved to Florida from New Jersey over the summer, so they got denied. I had to get on the line with Apple and fix my billing info.
Another charge was from Crutchfield's web site and were new speakers that I wanted to get installed in my older car along with a new stereo head unit. No biggie. Re-authorized, all fixed.
But one was the $10 charge from iTunes. And I had to suffer the indignity of having to explain to my wife what the hell it was for.
I think she would have been perfectly okay with it if it was say, a renewal of an electronic subscription to Playboy or Penthouse. Or something even racier and raunchier.
But an in-app purchase to some Chinese game company so I could buy pretend airplanes to fly out of a pretend airport?
Oh God. The shame. The humiliation.
Has a "freemium" game on your mobile device caused you to make any in-app purchases that result in having to reveal a private app addiction shame to a family member? Talk Back and Let Me Know.