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How NOT to make money online: Freemium gaming

When supermodel Kate Upton broke onto TV screens during the 2015 Super Bowl in medieval armor riding a horse, the average viewer asked one of two questions: What is "Game of War," and how is a mobile game making enough money to pay for Kate Upton?

According to Forbes, the makers behind "Game of War" used $40 million to pay for an avalanche of social media ads, TV spots, commercial budgets and, well, Kate Upton. For anyone familiar with the subtle pleasures of handheld games like "Tetris" or even new-age apps like "Temple Run," such marketing budgets seem ludicrous. Where does a free gaming app even get revenue from? Those small advertisements that some share from time to time can only earn so much money - hardly enough for any TV spot, let alone a Super Bowl one.

That's a problem "freemium" games don't necessarily have. Business savvy game developers have discovered a seemingly astonishing way to earn money online. Then again, when you start peeling back the layers behind freemium games, the specifics seem a little less business savvy and a little more seedy. 

If you want to start making money online, here's why you should stay away from freemium games.

Nothing in life is free
There are few online tools that are 100 percent free. Everything has either an advertisement, subscriptions or some other sort of payment attached to it to make up for inevitable operating costs. Freemium games are no different, hence the name freemium

Forbes contributor Paul Tassi described it this way:

"Within twenty seconds of starting ["Game of War'] I was pitched a "special offer" by Upton of a starting pack of goodies for $5," he wrote. "Past the game's usual "pay money to skip resource collection/build timers," it even has a casino element to it, where you can buy chips to play a giant kind of slot machine that doles out in-game rewards."

Users aren't asked to pay money straight from the get-go exactly, but mere minutes after downloading "Game of War," players are asked to pour money into the game for some sort of prize.

It's a trend that isn't unique to this game alone, however. The Guardian reported that "Candy Crush Saga," another freemium mobile game, earned some $1.3 billion in 2014 alone. All those earnings primarily come from mobile users that download these games for free, expect to play for free, but get sandbagged with timers, advertisements and in-game inconveniences that inevitably push them to spend just a few dollars here and there that quickly add up.

Social commentators push back
The games operated in a gray area that seemed annoying but not quite unethical or evil - that is, until a few comedy sources had something to say. Comedy Central's adult cartoon "South Park" recently lampooned the mobile game developers' freemium gaming tactics in an episode that largely used graphic organizers and industry reports to discuss the predatory aspects of freemium gaming, according to Mashable. While you may not fall for the same greedy tactics, it may be wise to build an awareness for freemium gaming revenue strategies beforehand.


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