This the the story of my son, an online computer game, and a quest that ended in tears and disappointment.
My son has recnetly been spending a lot of time playing an online game called Toontown. The basic premise of this game by Disney Games, from what I can tell, is that you are a character in an animated world, and your job is to use “gags” to destroy various characters that inhabit Toontown. I think these characters are called “cogs.” The gags you use are things like throwing pieces of pie, using a selzer bottle, and other cheesy things like that. The cogs, in turn, use their gags on you as well. I’ll be honest and say that this is about the extent of my understanding of the game, mostly because my son navigates so quickly around the screen that I don’t have time to read what’s going on. As an aside…my wife has spent considerable time with him on this game, so I trust that it’s appropriate for him.
I should mention, before I continue, that my son signed up for the free account on Toontown. That becomes important later on.
One of the things you also do in Toontown is go on various missions to gain things you can use on future missions…to gain weapons, of sorts. This story is about a particular mission my son was on, and the tragic ending to it.
My son spent about three days trying to complete a mission in which he collected frames for a sound gag. I’m not quite sure what that means, but I know that the process was long and complex. His task was to collect 15 frames, each one awarded at the end of a cog killing mission (various numbers of cogs each time). It also necessitated going back to Toontown HQ, checking in, and seeing if the ability to continue the mission was available. Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t. On Wednesday night, my son only needed three more frames when he went to bed. He was so excited about returning to the game on Thursday after school, that he literally could not sleep. When he awoke in the morning, he was extremely excited about the day, and the prospects of getting the last three frames of his quest.
After school and other stuff, he was finally able to resume his game. He got his first and second remaining frames after some work…it gets harder the further you go into the quest. Finally, he was ready to go after his last frame. He headed to Toontown HQ, checked for his missions, and that’s when the bombshell dropped.
Only paid subscriptions could go after the last frame.
My wife and I stared in disbelief at the screen. We explained the situation to my son, and he literally burst out in tears. This was easily one of the worst moments of his life…all that hard work wasted because nobody bothered to let us know you couldn’t complete this rather extensive mission without paying for the game.
I have no problems with content in a game being restricted to paying users. If you sign up for a free game, where subscriptions are also available, you get what you pay for. What I have a very big problem with is making it look like you get certain content for free, only to find out at the end, after considerable effort, that the final prize will cost you some money. In my opinion, Disney should not let free account holders even start this particular mission unless they are subscribers. The results of their current practice is some of the worst disappointment a six year old kid can face.
Games are about revenue. Even free games online often generate revenue through tie-ins or brand awareness. A child playing the free version of Toontown might someday persuade his parents to buy a related product in a store. There is nothing wrong with this. What Disney has done in this case, I believe, amounts to a bait-and-switch scheme. Hold a carrot out for a user, let them go after it for some time, and pull it away at the last moment. What a terrible impression to leave on a user.
How does this end? Being the trooper my son is, he realized he recently got $5 from one of his relatives, which he has not yet spent. A one month subscription to Toontown conveniently comes in at $4.95. He’s excited to come home from school today, pony up his money, and continue his adventure, finally getting the prize he’s worked so hard for. Score one for American capitalism and the Disney empire.