South Park: Freemium isn’t Free

South Park has covered and brought light to a large number of topics over 18 seasons. While always hilarious, and sometimes offensive, they can also be surprisingly informative. Few weeks ago South Park tackled the topic of freemium games. Since it relates closely to the course, I took upon myself to watch the episode, for research.

In the episode, Prince of Canada and Minister of Mobile Gaming explain the basic concept of “freemium games”.


Specifically, the Minister lists the five principles of a successful freemium game:

  1. entice the player with a simple game loop
  2. use flashing ‘chachings’ and compliments to make the players feel good about themselves
  3. train the player to spend the fake currency (you may have noticed donuts and clams on the whiteboard – the fake currency used in Simpsons Tapped Out and Family Guy Quest for Stuff)
  4. offer the player a way to spend real currency for your fake currency (so they forget they are spending actual money)
  5. and make the game about waiting – and allow players to pay not to wait

And another, important principle: make the game just barely fun, because if the game was too fun, there would be no reason to micropay.

South Park also make the connection between freemium games and drug/alcohol addiction.

Drug addiction: Jimmy pushes the game to Kyle and others like a drug dealer because he needed the money to pay for another freemium game he is addicted to.

Jimmy: How do you get people addicted to crack? You give it away for free. You give away a little taste and then..and then some people…can’t stop themselves.

Alcohol addiction: Minister of Mobile Gaming admits to targeting the heaviest users of game and extracting the most amount of cash from them.

Minister: Here is a fact – 80% of alcohol sales are paid for by alcoholics… You think the alcohol industry cares?! They don’t care that 10% are gonna get addicted, they’re counting on it

There are other great nuggets from the episode and I highly recommend everyone to watch the episode!

One response to “South Park: Freemium isn’t Free”

  1. eduj

    I’ve always been surprised at South Park’s ability to remain so relevant. I recall watching an episode about buying/selling gold during the peak of the gold bull market. Your post does remind me of a little bit of U.S. History–the demise of the gold standard in the world monetary system when the U.S. currency was no longer exchangeable for gold. In effect, we had traded real money (gold) for something that can be printed at will (currency), and there appears to be some parallels to the idea behind freemium games

    It makes me wonder: is our monetary system another freemium game designed by the powers that be?