Generally speaking, I’m not ashamed to call myself a mobile gamer. Five years ago, the mobile game market was a hellscape of nothing but hyper predatory free-to-play money pits, but things have definitely changed for the better. There are still plenty of overly monetized skinner box apps floating around, but the most popular and successful mobile games of today have a lot more actual gameplay to offer than old standards like Clash of Clans or Candy Crush. Games like Genshin Impact, Pokemon Unite, and the newly released Apex Legends Mobile have found a more reasonable MTX balance that avoids putting players into high pressure situations to spend at every opportunity. That being said, there’s a growing trend in these games that crosses the line for me. All of these games now feature paid log-in bonuses that pay out small amounts of premium currency that you need to manually claim every day. It sounds simple, but it’s one of the more nefarious tactics I’ve seen in a long time.
I didn’t even know paid log-in bonuses were a thing until earlier this week when Pokemon Unite introduced the Unite Pass, a monthly subscription that provides players with cosmetics, discounts, and a daily trickle of Aeos Gems, Pokemon Unite’s premium currency. For $10 per month, subscribers can earn 40 gems a day for a total of 1,200 each month. It’s a good value, considering 1,200 gems would normally cost you $20 in the shop, but the catch is you have to log-in and claim each batch of 40 gems every day.
Apex Legends Mobile, which launched a day after the Unite Pass, has a very similar offer, though unlike Unite it makes no bones about what it is you’re really paying for. By “Investing in Syndicate Gold”, and Apex Legends Mobile calls it, you can earn up to 1650 Syndicate Gold in eight daily installments for the low price of $11.99 – a savings of around $5 versus buying gold directly from the store. It even throws in a legendary weapon skin if you manage to log-in all eight days.
I’ve since learned that both Genshin Impact and Final Fantasy Brave Exvius also participate in paid log-in bonuses, and all of it makes me sick. Treating players like investors in an imaginary currency is disrespectful, and not only because it reeks of crypto. I know that these are voluntary offers that benefit players that are going to spend money and log-in every day anyway, but don’t be naive. If you’re the kind of person that only benefits from these offers, they weren’t designed for you. They’re made for the purpose of coercing people that wouldn’t necessarily log in everyday. It’s manipulative and I don’t think we should give anyone a pass for this, even though it’s optional.
The way I see it, I’ve just given Pokemon Unite $10 so that I can have a new daily chore. It no longer matters whether I want to play Pokemon Unite or not, I’m signing in every day and collecting my gems. Neglecting this chore will cost me roughly 66 cents a day, so there’s no way I’m going to miss it. I now have an alarm that goes off every day at 5:30 to remind me to play Pokemon Unite. Is it easy to log in and press a button every day? Yeah, it is. Do I want to pay $10 for the privilege of feeling like I have to log-in every single day? Absolutely not.
Paid log-in bonuses aren’t fundamentally different from battle passes, which cost real money and expire if you don’t complete them, but I’ve never seen a battle pass that demands your attention every single day. Most have daily and weekly objectives, but if you just don’t feel like playing today, you aren’t going to fall dramatically behind. As long as you play two or three days a week you’ll be able to finish most battle passes in my experience. I would prefer that things you buy don’t expire, but I have a lot more tolerance for battle passes than I do paid log-in bonuses.
But that’s the entire problem with sketchy monetization practices like this. It’s not that different from a battle pass, but I accepted that battle passes are okay a long time ago. You can say “just don’t buy it if you don’t like it,” but that kind of attitude seems to embolden increasingly aggressive microtransaction techniques. Culturally we’ve accepted that you have to continuously spend money to enjoy some games, but we have to draw the line at spending money to earn money that we can then spend to enjoy the game.
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