10 games that have been improved by in-app purchases

Miracles DO happen

10 games that have been improved by in-app purchases

This has to be one of the most misleading feature titles I've ever been given. I mean, surely no game has actually been improved by an excessive reliance on in-app purchases?

But after checking out my list of the worst offenders in the free-to-play world, PG reader Maurice Wong very sensibly suggested that we should highlight the opposite end of the scale.

Yep, excellent freemium titles where the use of in-game purchases fits with the theme and mechanics, and doesn't spoil the gameplay. Let it never be said that Pocket Gamer doesn't listen to its readership.

But not spoiling the gameplay is a far cry from actually improving the game. Where it makes a difference is the price.

In a well-designed game supported by IAPs, players can enjoy a full-featured title for nothing rather than paying upfront for something they might not like. The improvement is in the price; not the game itself.

So, here are ten iOS F2P titles guaranteed to bring you hours of enjoyment on a shoestring budget.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
By Blizzard - free on iPad

Most free-to-play games rely on a tiny minority of "whales" for healthy turnover. Whales are gamers who'll snap up the IAPs and keep the money coming in.

But that's unreliable at best. Surely a better model would be to make something so good that players actually felt guilty about playing it for free?

That's what Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft did to me. Never in my life have I got so much, of such quality, for so little. I felt morally obliged to pony up for some booster packs.

The collectible card game model that underpins Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is, of course, an absolutely perfect fit for IAPs. And Blizzard has built a brilliantly challenging and addictive game right on top of it.

Game of Thrones: Ascent
By Disruptor Beam - free on iPad and iPhone

Game of Thrones: Ascent commits pretty much every free-to-play atrocity you can imagine: meaningless timers, progress funnels to encourage you to pay up, and a game model that makes no sense in terms of adding IAPs.

So, what's it doing on this list? Well, I wanted to include it to show how even the most outrageous profiteering doesn't have to necessarily ruin a game.

It's saved by the brilliant writing, which effortlessly captures the mood and feel of Westeros and the characteristics of the big players. A solid bit of lightweight strategy and resource management helps, too.

But I think the real saving grace is that the text interface, the social options, and slow base building make this look and feel surprisingly like the slow-paced multiplayer strategy games of old. Waiting on pay timers isn't so bad if you remember the days when you had no choice at all over waiting.

Jetpack Joyride
By Halfbrick - free on iPhone and iPad

I hate Jetpack Joyride. Not because it's an empty, cynical free-to-play cash generator. Because, well, it certainly isn't.

I hate it because the game owes me. It owes me hours of my life. Hours that I've poured into its overly simplistic yet terrifyingly addictive gameplay. It never ends, dammit! Never... ends.

But personal prejudice aside, I paid a pittance for my copy and the game has now gone totally free. Yet it's barely changed. There was always an in-game currency here you could collect to buy minor power-ups to extend your runs, or to buy little cosmetic tweaks. It's just now you can buy a little extra to top up your account if you want.

And it has paid off handsomely. The switch to free generated millions of extra downloads and a big jump in profits, all without annoying a single player. Freemium can be wonderful for everyone when done with style and sympathy.

Punch Quest
By RocketCat Games - free on iPhone and iPad

Genre blending has always been a fertile area of game design. Probably more so on mobile than on other platforms thanks to the opportunities afforded by the novel touchscreen interface.

But if you'd ever told me that a blend of endless-runner and beat-'em-up could work, I'd never have believed you.

If you'd then told me that said holy union would be so brilliant and so addictive that I'd slavishly devote hours of my life to this marriage of gaming convenience, I'd have been forced to defriend you.

Yet, here I am, hours later, still playing Punch Quest. And all without spending a penny. I mean, you can buy power and cosmetic upgrades in-game if you want. Just like in all the best free-to-play games, though, you can also earn them. And earning them is tremendous fun all by itself.

By Sleeping Beast Games - free on iPhone and iPad

On a platform famed for its clever, innovative gameplay, Spaceteam stands out as being particularly creative and bizarre.

You'll need several people with iOS devices in the same room to play this. The game gives each player a selection of controls like dials and switches, and then gives you orders pertaining to other players' consoles.

You have to communicate these commands as quickly and clearly as possible. Chaos and hilarity thus ensues.

You can justly reward the developer for his cleverness by buying graphical tweaks and extra levels, but you don't have to buy anything at all. Except for several iOS devices, obviously.

RAD Soldiers
By Splash Damage - free on iPhone and iPad

Sometimes, it's amazing how the smallest things can make all the difference.

There are plenty of tactical combat games on iOS. Some of them are free. But the simple fact that the dev casts you here as a team of mercenaries in RAD Soliders and therefore makes the pay-to-upgrade system mesh perfectly with the theme catapults the game close to the top of both groups.

And because you can make up for a shortage of high-quality equipment with clever tactical play - and vice versa - this game has the capacity to satisfy gamers of varied tastes and ability levels.

Asphalt 8: Airborne
By Gameloft Barcelona - free on iPhone and iPad

The Asphalt games are founded on the now well-established, and quite brilliant, belief that racing games are much more fun if you forget about the racing and concentrate on maximising mechanical carnage.

Asphalt 8: Airborne has gone down the free-to-play route and - unlike its chief competitor Real Racing 3, which we highlighted in last week's gallery of shame - it's made the switch with style and grace.

With hard-earned cash, you'll be able to get new cars and new toys with which to upgrade them. But you can get plenty of thrills and spills with the defaults that the game gives you gratis.

Pocket Planes
By NimbleBit - free on iPhone and iPad

One of the most tried-and-tested models in all of gaming is this: give players the chance to navigate and trade their way from a tiny beginning to a mighty world-spanning empire.

Pocket Planes gives you the chance to do this with aircraft, ferrying passengers and cargo around the world and slowly expanding your fleet and economic power. Plus, it fits in your pocket.

It's got timers in it, sure, and that's the main nudge toward paying cash. But unlike many of its more offensive free-to-play cousins, the timers here make perfect sense.

You see, it does take time to fly from airport to airport, as any seasoned traveller will know. So, it feels a natural part of the game, which the impatient can pay to remove if they wish.

New Star Soccer
By New Star Games - free on iPhone and iPad

I was deeply confused by this game at first, bamboozled by the fact that what was clearly a football game was mislabelled with the bizarre gibberish 'soccer'.

I'd assumed a really good mobile football game would probably be too much to ask for, but New Star Soccer Football takes the clever approach of only giving you real-time control at key moments.

The IAPs come in an overarching career mode where you can pay in-game currency for footballer upgrades like new boots. Furthermore, you can pay real money for in-game dough.

It's been overhauled recently to try and squeeze more cash out of players, which is a shame. But you can still get a lot of enjoyment for relatively little in this one.

By Hexage - free on iPhone and iPad

Robotek is an early example of the use of a slot machine reel mechanic in an otherwise incongruous genre. In this case, in a strategy game.

You play as a massive Android trying to rescue the world from the dominance of hostile machines. In each round, you can weight your spins toward attack, defence, or upgrade. You then have to hope for the best.

It's a surprisingly compelling mix of luck and skill, which is more than you can say of a real slot machine.

As is the case in a lot of quality free-to-play titles, it's hard to reach the later levels here without paying for power-ups. But you'll enjoy the journey there, and you'll get more than enough opportunity to decide if you think it's worth investing a modest sum to progress.

Matt Thrower
Matt Thrower
Matt is a freelance arranger of words concerning boardgames and video games. He's appeared on IGN, PC Gamer, Gamezebo, and others.