Mobile game politics: Booster Back initiative demands "freemium fairness"

Rabble-rousing for in-app refunds

Mobile game politics: Booster Back initiative demands "freemium fairness"

Everything's politics. Even games. Quizista, a new indie developer that has just launched its first game, Quizcover, is trying to drum up support for its Booster Back initiative.

In a nutshell, it's about demanding that if you pay for a booster but still don't master a level or score points, you should get your boosters back so you can use them next time.

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Quizista is looking to find partners. They say they are prepared to discuss anything that will advance this cause, including licensing (for free) the Booster Back logo to other developers and publishers, or handing control over Booster Back to an industry group.

How -- and how soon -- the industry responds remains to be seen. The traditional approach is that users must choose wisely when to use boosters, and boosters don't generally come with the "value guarantee" that the Booster Back initiative demands.

Gamers, however, presumably welcome refunds any day of the week.

We've discussed the Booster Back idea and underlying strategy with Florian Mueller, Quizista's founder and a former EU Campaigner of the Year (Economist Group). Florian has fought for the open source movement and small software companies against software patents. He was also responsible, in a sales, marketing and publishing capacity, for Blizzard's first number one hit internationally.

The toughest question first: is Booster Back just a marketing stunt for your Quizcover trivia game, or is it a legitimate political campaign?

"That depends on others, not me. Right now, Quizcover is the only game to showcase the Booster Back approach. As soon as more companies adopt this approach, it will become a full-fledged campaign and I look forward to the day when Quizcover will be only one out of thousands of games that implement Booster Back. Gamers can sign up on the website to express their support or share the YouTube video. The more gamers do so, the more support this cause will get from companies."

If this is such a pressing issue, why haven't others complained about it before? Or, to put it another way, don't most gamers actually accept that using a booster does not come with guarantees?

"I'm a gamer and I always hated it when boosters I bought or that took me a lot of time to earn through so-called grinding were wasted. So I talked about it to other gamers and they said: now that I come to think about it, it really doesn't seem right that I have to spend ever more money on boosters or the boosters I've used in vain are a sunk cost. But you're right that there hasn't been a campaign yet and that's probably because freemium games have only in recent years become the predominant business model."

Why should the industry leave money on the table?

"I don't think this is a zero-sum game where the industry wins if gamers lose. If consumers have more confidence, they'll probably spend even more, but everyone will feel better about it."

Does the Booster Back promise have limits?

"For example, if your objective is to win a ranking, the game can't read your mind and refund your boosters because you finished only in second place. But if you don't score any points on something, that's a clear case for a refund. Also, it's specifically about boosters, such as hints in trivia games or high-power weapons in strategy games, and not about some other things. People often buy extra tries or extra time only because they've already used boosters that would be wasted if they gave up, and we do solve that problem, but aren't refunding retries. Maybe later."