Monument Valley

Monument Valley and Why the Best Things Aren’t Free

Last week was all about Monument Valley, for me. I first found it on a fellow gamer’s Pinterest board and promptly added it to my ‘must play’ list. Then it was nominated in the Time best looking games of the year list and I thought ‘there’s that game again’. But before I could buy it, Monument Valley hit the headlines again, because it was bombarded with one-star reviews from gamers who took exception to paying for the expansion. I coughed up some cash and played Monument Valley over the weekend to see if it was worth it.

Monument Valley is charming and beautiful.
Monument Valley is charming and beautiful.

First, let me tell you about Monument Valley – it’s gorgeous. Actually, it’s the most beautiful game I’ve played all year. I don’t really play games on my mobile, but this was a delight and makes it into my favourite games of 2014.

From developer, ustwo games, Monument Valley, is a simple puzzler, using Escher style perspective tricks. Each level is designed like a Moorish pleasure palace, with minarets and fountains. Add to that an Art Deco aesthetic, a minimalist, ambient soundtrack and charming character design and you’ve got a recipe for a good game. And to top it all, it cost me just £2.49 ($4 in the US).

Fortunately, Monument Valley has received a lot of critical acclaim, becoming an Apple Design Award winner, with sales breaking the 1 million mark back in August. Having recouped their development costs, thanks to healthy sales, ustwo decided to release an expansion, called Forgotten Shores.

The update costs £1.49 and adds a further eight levels to the original game’s 10 levels. This brings the total expenditure to less than a fiver, which could buy you a pint in your local drinking establishment or coffee and a slice of cake, if you’re lucky. That said, some thought charging for the expansion was a step too far and this is what happened.

Ustwo tweet

Gamers flooded iTunes with one-star reviews of Monument Valley.  According to a Develop report, one review read,  “After paying £3 for the original game I’m not happy to have to pay more for more levels.” Others called the game a “rip-off.”

Let’s just take a moment to unpack the statement, ‘I’m not happy to pay more for more.’ In most commerce situations, this seems like an unreasonable statement. If the apple seller gives you five apples, then you need to pay more, than if you bought three apples, the premise being that five is more than three. It’s simple mathematics.

Making more levels for a game, is more work for a developer and takes more time and resources. Staff work more and, therefore, need to be paid more. The way the developer pays for these resources, is by selling the fruit of its labours, in this case, the extra game levels.

However, a number of gamers seem to think that you should pay a small amount once and then get free content updates, indefinitely. In what crazy world did this become the expectation? If free-to-play becomes the rule of law, how can we expect developers to give us arty, gorgeous gems like Monument Valley?

At this point, let me remind you just how gorgeous Monument Valley is…behold.

Mangical palaces, which can be manipulated to create new paths
Mangical palaces, which can be manipulated to create new paths

Let’s not forget, the expansion at the princely sum of £1.49 is optional. People who bought Monument Valley don’t get a writ ordering them to cough-up for the expansion or else.  If they think it’s too much, then they can shrug and move on. Instead, they felt fit to leave petulant reviews that were no reflection of the quality of the game. It’s the equivalent of giving a one-star Amazon review because the parcel didn’t arrive very quickly, even though the item is perfect and exactly what you wanted.

The likes of Angry Birds and Candy Crush are free-to-play and this seems to have set a precedent among players. It doesn’t take long to see that Monument Valley offers more than a quick arcade fix of gaming, at the bus stop. It’s a simple puzzler, beautifully gift-wrapped to provide something thoughtful and relaxing. It’s a game that draws you into another world and I’m more than happy to pay for that.

ustwo has promised the expansion is coming to Android in the next couple of weeks. I’ll be there, ready to hand over my £1.49 – I mean, what can you buy with that these days? A Mars Bar and not much else. It’s time people start to value the creative endeavours we so greedily consume. Games don’t grow on trees and developers can’t live on thin air.

I hope Monument Valley does get endless updates because I’ll happily pay for every single one.


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2 thoughts on “Monument Valley and Why the Best Things Aren’t Free”

  1. Totally agree with you. As a person working in app development, it really hurts how people do not have any basic understanding of how hard, long, and complicated app making can be. It’s not a piece of cake, and for something as beautiful and well done as MV, people are just being a**holes giving the game 1 star just because of the cost.

    1. Sadly, nobody wants to pay for creativity these days. People seem to want everything for free.

      Thanks for stopping by to read and comment.

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