Welcome back to the In-App Purchase Inspector- our regular look at free-to-play games from the consumer's perspective.
In each installment, we'll be looking at 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 will be 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'll be taking a look at US studio Proletariat's shambling apocalypse simulator World Zombination.
Life or death
World Zombination is a zombie game, which opens by giving you a rather important decision: do you take the side of the Infected, sending waves of the undead in the pursuit of delicious brains, or do you join the ragtag squadron of Survivors attempting to keep their brains well and truly free of teeth-marks?
I felt that I'd spent enough of my life gunning down helpless zombies already, and resolved to put a stop my necrophobic ways by siding with the undead hordes.
(You do also get the option to play as the other side later in the game.)
The idea, then, is that you're tasked with putting together a team of units to fight for your cause.
Zombies come in various flavours, from the hulking Behemoth to the swift and suicidal Deliveryman, while the human units play roles as diverse as the melee Fire Chief to long range Snipers and support Medics.
It's essentially a tower defence game, in which you choose your line-up before sending them out into battle (or placing them in defensive positions if you're a Survivor), deploying replacement units from fixed spawn points as they become available mid-fight.
There's an extensive online component, which has you joining guilds alongside other players and participating in PvP leagues, alongside fifty single-player missions with procedurally generated maps.
For the purposes of this article, I dabbled primarily in the latter.
Like games of this genre, much of the combat involves simply waiting on cool-down timers for each unit type before dragging them back into the fray to try and overwhelm the enemy.
And, on the topic of waiting for timers, that's the cornerstone around which a lot of the game's mechanics and monetisation are built.
Feeding the hunger
To the game's credit, its design is remarkably clean and appealing. There's not even the sniff of any in-game advertisements here, and the monetisation is based on very straightforward and up-front systems.
Each side has three currencies - two soft and one hard.
In the case of the Infected: Brains are used to fund research and to embark on missions; DNA is used to evolve (i.e. level up) your troops; and Coins - the hard currency - can be used to circumvent wait timers and buy new unit packs.
If you opt to play as the Survivors, Brains and DNA are replaced with Cans and Crates respectively, but remain the same functionally.
The game adopts the popular tiered ranking system for its characters, as inspired by collectable card games, with units ranging from Common to Legendary ranks.
Unit packs, which guarantee you a certain level of quality depending how much you're willing to splash out, can be bought at prices ranging from 25 coins for an Uncommon pack to 2500 for a bundle of 5 Epic packs, which includes at least 1 Legendary unit.
In terms of real money value, prices go from $4.99 for 600 coins right up to $99.99 for 16,000.
$4.99 is fairly expensive for a minimum spend, and the game's not particularly generous in giving its hard currency away freely either.
However, the good thing is that you rarely feel pressured into making the purchase, unless you're a serious player looking to beef up your squad with Epic or Legendary units.
You see, World Zombination is actually pretty traditional in the way it doles out rewards, ranking your performance for each stage in what is essentially a 3-star system based on your level of efficiency.
If you play well enough to tick all three boxes, you earn three rewards - be that soft currency, additional units, or occasionally even coins - which can help to stave off the need to resort to the IAPs.
The reckoning hour(s)
But there is another reason, other than grabbing new units, that you might be tempted to spend money in World Zombination, and that is that essentially all the game's functions involve a whole lot of waiting.
Upgrading a unit takes time, with the wait timers getting longer as the units in question become more powerful.
Upgrading your Flare and StimZ - two resources which offer a tactical advantage on the battlefield - takes several hours each for each single improvement.
Post-battle, it also takes time for your units to recover energy, which means you either have to wait for them to regain energy on their own, spend coins to speed up the process, or instead use a backup crew for the next mission.
Patience or pay
In short, much of World Zombination is spent waiting for things to happen.
However, while this can break the flow of some games, here it feels like the entire experience has been designed around it.
For instance, you're encouraged to be upgrading units at pretty much all times, and mission rewards mean that you're very unlikely to be short of units. This means that the energy system doesn't present too much of an obstacle, as you'll likely have at least a reasonable spread of decently-levelled backups.
By the same token, the DNA costs for each upgrade cease to be a problem when you realise that surplus units - and trust us, there'll be plenty of them - can be cashed in for extra DNA without spending a penny.
Finally, everything's set up for play in short bursts anyway.
Even if you only have two minutes to spare, World Zombination ensures that you can make meaningful progress with the automatic Quick Fight option allowing you to swap a speedy victory (provided your team meets the recommended level of strength) in return for completely exhausting the energy of all deployed units.
There is the feeling that the clean flow of the time-based meta-gameplay does detract somewhat from the actual gameplay, though.
It quickly boils down into set strategy for victory. Little tactic nous is required.
The end times
In terms of testing the monetisation, I did spend money on in-app purchases, opting for the lowest level of 600 coins for $4.99, which was more than enough for what I was hoping to get out of it.
200 of those coins went on repairing the second Mutation Station, which allows you to double productivity by upgrading units two at a time, 100 went on a Rare unit pack, and what was left was spent on speeding up some particularly lengthy processes.
However, I did this because I wanted to.
Never did I feel like I was being shut out of World Zombination for my stubbornness to part with cash, even when the wait timers were at their most aggressive - adapting your play around them is encouraged, and, to my mind, in no way damaging for a game of this sort.