Earlier this month we caught wind that Phosphor Games was planning to give the paid version of Dark Meadow [$1.99] a free to play extreme makeover. Our community caught wind, formed up the all too predictable angry mob, and the next day Phosphor decided that the free to play version would come as a separate app instead of updating the existing paid version.

Last night, two things happened. First off, Dark Meadow: The Pact [Free] hit the App Store, offering players who never tried the original game a free opportunity to dip their toes into the Dark Meadow universe. Secondly, Dark Meadow was updated to have all the improvements of the free version. This includes Retina Display support for the new iPad and some new content which comprises both new areas and enemies as well as weapons. Getting around in the game is also easier, as they've not only added an in-game map, but also the ability to warp around so you don't have to totally start over when you die.

Regardless, I'd still back up your original Dark Meadow .ipa file before updating in case you ever want to go back, especially if you're the kind of person who hates shoehorned IAP currency. The way I (and a lot of our community it'd seem) read the original explanation from Phosphor on how they were going to split the free and paid versions was more along the lines of "We're going to add the tweaks and new content from the free to play version to the existing paid version, leaving all the wacky micro transaction stuff to the free version."

Unfortunately, what we got is an update which adds all the IAP currencies as well along with a consolation prize of sorts which amounts an ability to toggle the ads off along with some normal coins, sun coins (the IAP currency), along with some consumable health packs and bombs. (Bombs destroy enemies without needing to fight them.)

The IAP currency balancing is also crazy. If you want any of the new items which are purchased with sun coins, even in the paid version, you have three options:

  1. Grind for eternity farming up kill streaks to earn sun coins.
  2. Buy sun coins via IAP.
  3. Complete referral offers like signing up for credit cards and online dating sites among other things.

Weirder yet, the way these referral offers are balanced against the actual IAP makes no sense. For instance, one of the referral offers asks you to buy a PC or Mac game from Big Fish Games for $2.99. This rewards you with as much IAP currency as the $9.99 bundle of sun coins, but you also get a PC/Mac game out of the deal. Normally I'd say this isn't that big of a problem because you can just try to ignore the IAP items and play the game with what you can get with in-game coins… BUT.

The problem with this line of thinking and Dark Meadow is that character progression in these Infinity Blade-like games hinges on gear unlocks, while both saving up and looking forward to the next weapon you can afford. Yes, it's entirely optional, but looking at what you can buy with the non-IAP currency from the in-game item shop feels like ordering off the kids menu when compared to the substantial difference in power found in the premium IAP-currency items.

That being said, if you can deal with this proverbial carrot being dangled in front of your face while you play through both the free and paid versions of Dark Meadow, the gameplay is actually legitimately better than it was before. IAP schemes aside, combat feels much more responsive, the ability to warp back to near where you were when you died was sorely needed, and it looks great on the new iPad.

The good news is that the guys from Phosphor are all over the thread on our forums responding to user feedback, and seem genuinely interested in making players happy. That counts for something, although I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed in this trend on the App Store. Dark Meadow was one of the early games powered by the Unreal engine, and it's sad to see the game go down the same free to play path as everyone else instead of just proudly existing as a premium showpiece title.

  • http://twitter.com/VULTR3 Mike

    Yuck... Oh wait, dating site offers? I'M IN.

    • http://twitter.com/Platronic John Francis

       Likes: Walks on the beach, puppies, IAP referrals from horror games.

      Dislikes: Taxes, virtual joysticks, games without in-game stores.

  • Adams Immersive

    I’d love to think it’s just as easy for a dev to pay expenses and make some money without resorting to this kind of thing. I may be living in a fantasy land. But I’ll be living there with only what weapons my skill alone can earn :)

  • farnsworth_pro

    Was thinking of picking this one up until the move to free to play... wont support that kind of tactic. I've passed on others for the same reason (ghost trick comes to mind)

    Someone out there has to have some semblance of integrity...

    • http://www.facebook.com/alterenzo Crescenzo D'Alterio

      ghost trick is NOT the same thing: they simply offer you a free demo (about 1 hour of gameplay), and then, if you want the whole game, you just pay the price they ask.

      And it's one of the best games i've played on my iphone

      • farnsworth_pro

        The game was "ok" if you enjoy having your progress throttled by insane amounts of handholding and infantile coddling to hammer the plot points so far into your skull that it puts Inception to shame.

        And I'm still not going to support it.

      • famousringo

        If you just don't like the game, that's fine Just don't go around claiming that the game uses the freemium model, because it really doesn't.

      • farnsworth_pro

        Both games offer a limited experience for free, requiring the user to pay for the full game. The bonus for the developers is that they hook the user in because the game is listed as FREE on the appstore. This is MISLEADING. Whether it is a demo or this "freemium model" which is essentially a stripped down version of the game, offering a limited experience (wait..don't demos do that too? hmm) and allowing the user to purchase the game from within its "FREE GAME HERE" shell.

        Both games are listed as FREE on the appstore. Both climb the ladder of the charts and can boast a high number of downloads because users are just trying out the "FREE VERSION" (that is: the game with limitations). Because the FREE VERSION is the ONLY version on the appstore, the developer gets to essentially piggyback a PAY game under the listing of a FREE game.

        This is misleading way of offering the game and I choose not to support that. Put out a lite version so you aren't skewing download stats and charts.

      • http://twitter.com/Platronic John Francis

        This is a total false equivalence and a totally separate problem. I agree that they (Capcom) are gaming the chart to drive interest but it's a different issue with totally different consequences. One makes progression a grind and one makes it impossible. It may be just as bad but it's a different problem with a whole set of different solutions.

        It's cool that you don't support what you see as unethical practices though, it would be wonderful if the consumer helps deter both companies from using this model or Apple starts to separate "demos" out of the free charts.

      • farnsworth_pro

         "It's cool that you don't support what you see as unethical practices
        though, it would be wonderful if the consumer helps deter both companies
        from using this model or Apple starts to separate "demos" out of the
        free charts."

        You got it, John :) You understand what I am saying

  • KenGriffeyIII

    When I bought the game I really didn't pay for this. I know I can chose not to update if I want but even so taking a game you already paid for because and turning into an IAP fest (optional or no) is a very, very shady move IMO.

    • http://twitter.com/woodesh matthew wood

      Slap them on the boycott list, the fact that apple allows such money Making tactics is a joke. Maybe every developer should release there game completely free, get some good pr, fanbase then in a month or so when the games sitting nicely on good reviews throw a bucket load of IAP in to it. Games like this need re-reviewing as its not the same product.

  • Brandon Moody

    I wouldn't lump ghost trick among the throngs of IAP-centric games. That title was more of a free demo with the option of unlocking the full game for a fee. There's no enhancements or bonuses locked behind an IAP wall.

    • farnsworth_pro

      The full game is locked behind the IAP wall in both cases with a limited version of the game being free. In both cases, the full experience is locked.

      If you have to mask your full game behind a "FREE" listing then I have no money for you.

      • rodgerodger

        So if Ghost Trick had separate apps, one as the free demo and one as the full paid game, that is fine. But combing those into one app is unacceptable? What Ghost Trick did is NOT the same as what Dark Meadow is doing with all of its coin/consumable/IAPs. If you can't see the difference, well, whatever.

      • farnsworth_pro

        "So if Ghost Trick had separate apps, one as the free demo and one as the full paid game, that is fine. But combing those into one app is unacceptable?"

        **YES** That's the whole point!!!! They are using the mask of a free download to pad their numbers and climb the charts. If there was a separate free demo and a paid version, then the downloads reflected in the charts would be accurate.

        If you can't see the similarities and the hazards of gaming the system through chart manipulation and parading demos as free games, well, whatever.

      • http://www.centercode.com Luke Freiler

        90% of what's on the free section of the app store now is not free - get over it. I hate consumable (coins, etc.) IAP immensely, but Ghost Trick is a demo that lets you unlock - which is great because if they were separate apps, you'd have to start over. Also, given that there isn't a "demo" section/concept on App Store, it's the best thing they can do. But don't lump Ghost Trick in with this endless grindy IAP crap. It's a free demo with ONE unlock - I wish EVERYONE would do that.

      • maniacfive

        Can't please everybody, some people piss and moan about having separate apps for a lite or demo version, other people rag on the devs when they have the full game unlocked as IAP.

        personally, I don't care if a dev takes the shareware route and has an IAP unlock. Its hardly a cheeky way of gaming the charts when the charts are already gamed with very shady practices anyway

      • Brandon Moody

        I have to agree with Luke below; I prefer the way Ghost Trick is set up, because if the "demo" portion was a separate app, I'd have to retread those chapters in the full version, which isn't too appealing to me.  That said, maybe if they more prominently stated that there was an IAP lock on the app description page, would that make it more palatable?

        As for Dark Meadow, were the prices of the prior-available goods adjusted to take advantage of the IAP structure?  If so, that kind of rebalancing is abhorrent.  If not, and the only thing that changed is the addition of new items that, short of heavy grinding, can only be obtained through IAP, then I'd be a bit annoyed, but not much else.  I guess my point is that my .99 paid for this game in the state that it was in at the time of purchase, and my expectations are that the game maintains the same level of playability (or better via patches to fix bugs etc) throughout its supported lifespan.  If the IAP merely supply the means to beat the game faster than the vanilla items that were already present, and the vanilla items still require the same effort to obtain post-IAP implementation, I'm not thrilled, but I don't think I'm going to be grabbing the pitchforks either.  In a way, I feel this is kinda sorta similar to the GOF2 HD debate (though I'm sure HDing all those textures took more effort than modeling a few new crossbows or whatnot).

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JROF3YWV6VXFAFOPHFJVZGWWEA LR

    What ever happened to just buying a game and that's it? I will never support these IAP cheats.

    • http://www.centercode.com Luke Freiler

      Freemium happened to it. Developers realized that a very small chunk of crazy people would pay a ton of money for their game coins, and that's enough to redesign for it. The real problem with freemium/iap crap is that it encourages developers to balance around that (i.e. it's unreasonable to progress through the game in less than 3 lifetimes unless you invest in it).

  • nickmorgs

    Well this sounds like a shame.  The developers were given ample notice of their customers distaste for these antics and they seem to have gone ahead regardless.

    The fact that they are actively participating in the forums almost makes it worse for me as they should have been better informed.

    • whatshit

      I played it for  an hour before realising i would have to iap or grind and grind to unlock even the second crossbow.

  • Chris Miller

    Deleted. Thank god I only paid $1.00 for it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Cambalik/1014504022 Andrew Cambalik

    I wouldn't have minded the IAP stuff, ..... if the update didn't delete my saved game! All those weeks of grinding ... gone.  Thanks.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/RHJYSBVU33QNWSDYDOE2TSOBRE Josh Miazga

    Great now this game is ruined,i paid full price for this game to.

  • Pedantic Douchebag

    Any game that forces me to use real world currency to buy in-game first aid kits (with no other form of healing available) is an automatic one star review and delete.