Welcome back to the In-App Purchase Inspector- our regular look at free-to-play games from the consumer's perspective.
In each instalment, we consider the incentives or pressure applied to make in-app purchases, their perceived value, the expansion offered by IAPs and the overall value of the experience.
The end goal is to see whether the game makes a good enough case for us to part with our cash, or whether players are content - or engaged enough - to 'freeload'.
This time we're taking a look at The Walking Dead: March to War, a new 4X strategy game from Star Trek Timelines and Game of Thrones Ascent developer Disruptor Beam.
Between Scopely's Road to Survival and Next Games' No Man's Land, The Walking Dead was already a franchise well-represented in free-to-play mobile gaming.
But it hardly came as a surprise when Disruptor Beam threw its hat in the ring to compete, with it being so well-versed in working on major multimedia IP.
March to War's narrative elements are a subtle focal shift rather than a revolution.
The Boston-based developer has been talking up March to War's focus on storytelling prior to release, which is certainly novel among free-to-play mobile games.
But while there's more chin-wagging here than in most competing titles, and some meaningful decisions given to the player in the form of its dilemma system, this feels like a subtle focal shift rather than a revolution.
The Walking Dead: March to War resembles MZ's output far more than it does Telltale's narrative-led take on the franchise, leaning heavily on familiar patterns of base-building, unit management and wait timers.
The same but different
Indeed, the minute-to-minute action of March to War is precisely the same as a game developed by MZ. It's heavily led by tutorials in the same way, all its buildings are also assigned regimented plots of land, and the closest the player comes to genuine action is sending characters into a raid from a menu.
However, it benefits atmospherically from the sprinkling of narrative and the association with The Walking Dead - an IP in which many are evidently deeply invested.
This feeds into the all important social glue, and I've already experienced members of clans - here known as communities - issuing in-character messages.
The mission that March to War players are given is to establish a viable survivors' camp. This requires the management of four resources: Food, Salvage, Lumber (after level 10) and Fuel (after level 15).
These are all generated by different buildings at the base, and ensuring that they are all being produced at a sufficient speed and volume quickly becomes a major focus.
It's the same old song of keeping everything upgraded around a headquarters, the strength of which dictates the upper limit of all buildings around it.
Waiting for death
Inevitably, then, a major part of March to War's monetisation is based around wait timers. Only one building can be constructed or upgraded at any one time as standard, but the process can be sped up by using either Speedup Tokens or hard currency Bullets.
Any timer with under ten minutes remaining can be skipped for free, which makes smaller upgrades painless.
For any longer timers, it's merciful that you're given a healthy stash of 10 five-minute and three one-hour Speedup Tokens at the outset, with more available through sending survivors on Supply Runs or resolving Dilemmas raised by Council Members.
The player is also gifted 200 Bullets to start out with, which can be used to skip timers entirely, though these should be used wisely as the game is not in the habit of handing them out.
The most attractive purchases here involve multiple resources and bonuses.
Bullets are available in packs ranging from $4.99 for 500 to $99.99 for 20,000. They can also be used in a gacha-like system to guarantee Rare (and possibly Legendary) Survivors for 1,000 Bullets (approximately $8.30) apiece.
Much like in MZ's games, however, the most attractive purchases here involve multiple resources and bonuses.
The biggest retailing push in the early game is for a Survival Boost, which increases the number of active raiding parties permitted from two to three, provides a second builder and enables wait timers to be skipped at 20 minutes or less, rather than the regular 10.
For $4.99 this seems like a bargain, but these boosts are only active or 30 days. This not only encourages the player who purchases this bundle to come back daily, but the dramatic slowing of progress after its effects have worn off will incentivise follow-up purchases.
Specifically, this is intended to drive the purchase of the second builder for 300 Bullets (actually quite cheap at $3). But good business or not, it's unclear whether an offer that doubles productivity for a fixed period before sending the player crashing back to earth actually represents an enjoyable experience.
More straightforward are bundles priced at $4.99, $19.99 and $99.99 which package together impressive quantities of Bullets, Speedup Tokens and resources.
Only subtleties set Disruptor Beam's game apart - such as its comparative generosity with rewards and the lack of aggresion in its retailing - but they add up to create a more player-friendly experience.