I don’t remember what prompted me to install a mobile game last week. I’d read a listicle about decent mobile games, but this wasn’t one of them. I assume that, while I was checking one of those games out, I looked at Google Play’s recommendations and saw this thing, blandly called “Wood Block Puzzle.” (Once installed it’s called “Qblock” on your phone, a name that’s also somewhat generic.)
It’s a simple puzzle game, it has a pretty high user rating after a lot of installs… and it has ads and in-app purchases? Ick.
Maybe the in-app purchase is to get rid of the ads, I thought. Fair enough. So I installed it and tried it out.
It was indeed a simple puzzle game, with an interface which I was only temporarily baffled by. (Am I supposed to be able to rotate these blocks? And what the hell are the keys for?) I shrugged that off, too – I don’t game much on mobile because the business models keep putting me off, so I figured I might just be unfamiliar with UI conventions that more experienced mobile gamers take for granted.
So I finished my first game. I didn’t do great, because it was my first game and I still hadn’t figured out block rotation… and a leaderboard popped up declaring that I was something like 296th.
…in the world. On my first try. Of a game that has over 50,000,000 installs.
I smelled bullshit. Blatantly manipulative bullshit.
I persevered. I figured out the block rotation, which you can do a limited number of times, and I figured out the keys, which unlock fucking lootboxes that give you more rotations. The keys were earned by way of a quasi-XP system, so I’d probably get fewer of them over time, but I could also earn a couple of free rotations by clearing three or more rows at once, and I wasn’t running low yet.
The first time a pop-up ad appeared, the option to remove ads popped up right after it. This could have been presented more subtly, and my bullshit detector was already twitching… but in my experience, “$5 for ad-free gaming” is as close to a fair price as mobile games usually get. So I paid up.
Then I played a game on my lunch break at work, and by the time my shift was over I’d gotten my first push notification. They kept coming, and they were filled with even more manipulative bullshit:
- “Your friend has issued a challenge.”
- “Your friend played QBlock over 2 hours today.”
I don’t even use Google Play’s friends list, you lying sack of rats’ vomit.
I’ve uninstalled better games than this because of push notifications They’re worse than pop-up ads, because pop-ups only interrupt the game. Push notifications try to interrupt the rest of my fucking life, because apparently I’m expected to be mainlining this one piece of entertainment several times a day, every day, for the foreseeable future.
And the reason is because, when those free block rotations run out, the game’s developer would love to sell me some more: 10 for 99 cents, or 3 a day (plus ad removal, which I’d already bought once) for $4.99 a month. The “best” “deal” I saw was 1,000 rotations for $19.99.
I didn’t buy any, because my ego isn’t so fragile that I have to buy a high score in a video game, and because by this time I’d had about enough of this particular flavor of bullshit.
In summary, Wood Block Puzzle is a simple but solidly-made little game that I could have sunk a good number of hours into, for a fair price, if its devs hadn’t felt the need to harass and manipulate me in the hope that I’d buy some pay-to-win microtransactions.
And then I got an update notification from Play, and the changelog looked like this:
No information form the developer
Not even Google was that arrogant.
The only time I’ve opened the app since then was to double-check the microtransaction prices for this post.