About two months ago, I got a text from our editor, Ryan, telling me I should check out this game called Spellfall. I generally listen to Ryan’s suggestions since he’s pretty good at identifying mobile games I’ll enjoy. On top of that, I was in the market for a new game to play on my phone so off to the iOS App Store I went.
The addiction was immediate. SpellFall is a cleaner, leaner, dressed up version of a PC game I played for hours: Puzzle Quest. Essentially, it’s a jewel matching game with RPG elements. Bejeweled meets Diablo II. I started playing obsessively, choosing to game on my phone instead of hoping on to World of Warcraft when I had a chunk of time to play.
The honeymoon was lovely, especially after I broke my rule and spent some actual money on in-game currency — I wanted to support the game because I enjoyed it that much.
Unfortunately, the honeymoon was ruined by a recent patch and the game I enjoyed was turned into one I now play in utter frustration.
I’ll get to why I’m still playing later. Let me explain the game and the patch that destroyed it all.
SpellFall is “Free to Play” — if you take the time and energy, you can reach max level and play all the maps throughout the game. Any damage your character takes while playing is healed over time and the length of that time increases as your hit points accumulate and you level up. You don’t have to pay to unlock maps or levels in the game.
There is an incentive program to keep you regularly opening the game: click everyday for 20 days and you get a heroic, gold level item that levels with your character and does more damage as you continue to level. The gem matching part of SpellFall has an elemental focus, so some of the gems do either more or less damage depending on your foe. These weapons increase the damage to specific elemental foes.
On top of different types of weapons and armor, each item you use has rune sockets where you equip runes to boost stats and allow you to cast spells. This takes your basic gem matching game and makes it just strategic enough to become addictive. It’s not about the speed of Bejeweled Blitz; instead, you have to take the time to think through where and what you will play and the potential damage it can cause.
Originally, this was the reason I fell in love with SpellFall — a new form of game play that I found compelling. I was good with taking the time and playing daily to get the cool, uber strong gear, and delighted all the maps were available as long as you took the time to play. I’m ok with micro-transaction games as long as I can play the basic game without having to pay. The elemental weapons after clicking for 20 days seemed reasonable to me. If you are impatient, and don’t want to wait 20 days for one, they are available for purchase in the store for $79.99. (No, that’s not a typo. You can buy one weapon for almost $80.)
Then the new patch happened.
I’d say everything changed but that sounds so cliche… but everything changed. The one positive was now when you use your elemental weapons against a matching foe — a Burning Claideamh against a cold monster for example — you do extra damage.
I had collected two of the elemental weapons before the patch. Each comes with three open rune sockets out of five total. You would think for $79.99 ALL the sockets would be open but I digress. I was able to open all five sockets on my first two weapons. I can’t remember the exact cost for the last two sockets but I only spent $10 on gold when I did buy it and that is only 122K gold pieces. On my third weapon, I clicked the fourth socket and this is what I saw:
279K! I thought there must be some mistake… that was an outrageous amount of gold, it would take eons to earn that much gold in the game BEFORE the patch. After the patch, they cut the amount of gold earned from completed maps from almost 2000 gold pieces per map to 880, so earning potentials went waaaaay down.
Earning gold went significantly down and the cost to unlock rune sockets sky rocketed. What does that spell?
To buy the gold to unlock the fourth rune slot on the elemental weapons would cost $24.99 and that only opens the FOURTH socket of FIVE. So a weapon that costs almost $80 would need another $50 at least to be at max power. I will admit I spend a fair amount of money on Steam games and my WoW subscriptions, but I have never, ever spent $130 on a SINGLE ITEM in a game, not to mention there are five elemental weapons.
I’ve rarely been so disappointed in a game. I think my disappointment is highlighted by the fact that I was truly enjoying this game and planned to finish it so I could follow the story woven into each battle. It is no small thing in a mobile game to take the time and space to include a narrative, especially since most mobile gamers aren’t interested in a storyline but rather a quick and satisfying game experience.
SpellFall had transcended that experience. I was engaged with the game on multiple levels. I wanted to know what happened to my character and his companion, a spriteling guide. And that is why I continue to play even when I want to slam down my phone when I die over and over again on the same level. I am a sucker for a storyline and I must know what happens at the end.
So I begrudgingly play and I curse Backflip Studio all the while. I won’t spend another penny on the game, which may mean I’ll never know the end of the story, but I’m not willing to continue to support a studio that so obviously only respects my pocketbook.
Regina is a gamer, writer, teacher, and podcaster living in the Pacific Northwest. She completed her Ph.D. in 2011 from Washington State University in Vancouver and continues to teach there part time. Regina’s research interests focus on women and technology, and her dissertation discusses female gamers and identity in digital role playing games. A lifelong geek and technology enthusiast, Regina recently started a Girls Who Code club in support of their mission to close the gender gap in technology.
To continue the conversations about gender and gaming that Regina started during her research, she started a podcast called Game on Girl. Called the “NPR of game podcasts” by Chris Brown of The Married Gamers, the podcast features women involved in the game industry, and tackles some of the complicated issues in the gaming community. Season 2 began in the spring of 2018 and will premiere new episodes monthly.