Happy birthday, Doctor Who: Legacy!

All thirteen Doctors!

All thirteen Doctors!

I haven’t written about Doctor Who: Legacy in a while, and I think it’s time. Anyone who’s reading this blog probably already knows at least the gist of the game, but I’ll describe it here anyway. It’s a match-3 game (that’s the general descriptor for any game in which there are colored piece on a board and the point is to move them so that 3 or more gems line up in a row and disappear) based on Doctor Who, in which you create a team of one Doctor and five allies and play the match-3 board to defeat enemies.

DW:L debuted on iOS exactly a year ago with one season’s worth of levels, about twenty allies, and two available Doctors, and since has released on Android devices and Facebook, with three seasons’ worth of levels, over 100 allies, and all thirteen TV show Doctors. During the broadcast window of Series 8, it released weekly content based on the episode of the week, rewarding the player with a new ally or costume. It also has an exclusive Fan Area, with more levels and allies, as well as expert levels that take high skill to beat and reward the player with expert versions of favorite characters. DW:L operates on the “free to play” model (abbreviated F2P), meaning that you can download the game for free and if you put enough time and effort into it, you earn most of its content without spending money (exception: the stuff in the Fan Area), but you can purchase currency which you can use to purchase powerups and content that you want right now or having trouble obtaining.

I’ve been playing DW:L ever since it came out, and I’m still pretty rabid about the game. All of my characters are at max level – well, except for the ones that were released last night, but as soon as they were released, I played until I got all of them; I will spend a lot of this weekend leveling them up. The makers of this game, Tiny Rebel Games, did a brilliant job of capturing the essence of Doctor Who – with its huge universe of characters and enemies, but without resorting to a game type that involved direct combat – while providing a game with captivating gameplay and allowing all fans to particpate by using an F2P model. They’re devoted to covering the entire show, from 1963 to the present, working tirelessly to provide more content on a weekly basis.

Tiny Rebel also has fantastic customer service and community support. If you’re the type to interact with other players, you can subscribe to their feeds on Facebook and Twitter for daily news and announcements, receive their weekly newsletter in your email, and go to the forums to talk about your favorite teams and strategies. They regularly poll their audience for suggestions about gameplay and what characters to include next. Last year, at Christmas time, a player suggested that they add a level based on “The Christmas Invasion”, and they had it designed, approved by the BBC, and out to players within a week.

More recently, I’ve been having problems with the game, and they responded immediately and personally. For many months now, my game, on my iPad 2, which is admittedly pretty obsolete technology, has been getting slow and crashing after playing levels. Back in March, I noticed that the game would crash after playing a level around 25 times. Two weeks ago, that number was down to 6 times (or about every 8 minutes). I sent in a support ticket, discussing the matter (I’m a game developer, so I was able to describe the problem in detail, with statistics), and I received a personal response from the game designer, that they were already aware of the issue and was about to put out a new release that hopefully fix it. He also asked me some specific questions about my experience with the issue, and we talked briefly about it.

The point, though, is that they took the time to work with me and address the issues. Absolutely amazing. Earlier this week, they released the promised update, and my game hasn’t crashed since – it’s still running silky smooth after at least a hundred levels. I wrote back to them to thank them for their wonderful work, and to show my appreciation, I purchased in-game currency. That’s the best way to show support for an F2P game.

And here we come to the point of this blog post. I’d like to ask all of you who play and enjoy Doctor Who: Legacy to support them by buying some Time Crystals. You don’t have to spend much: the smallest increment you can buy is $0.99, though if you buy the $4.99 package or above, you also get access to the Fan Area, which has a lot of extra levels (including the best one for farming Rank 5 Time Fragments, “Jenny”), exclusive allies, and better Time Fragment drop rates. What can you do with Time Crystals? Well, you can purchase allies, buy new team slots (I have seven – one for my battle team, one for farming “Jenny”, and five single-color teams for farming Time Fragments), continue levels that defeated you, and reset skill points. Most of mine have gone towards buying allies that are in the store but haven’t been released in the levels yet (like the five-color Silence pack and the Ood pack).

Those are the things you get for buying Time Crystals, but I’d also like to discuss here why it’s important to support DW:L, and honestly, any other F2P game you might be playing. Now, I know there are plenty of people who simply cannot afford to pay for a game like this, who scrape together every dollar to put food on the table and a roof over their kids’ heads. I’m not addressing this to those people. I’m talking to the people who have at least some disposable income but don’t feel that supporting a F2P is a good idea.

Like I said, I’m in the games industry, and I’ve heard all of the reasons why people don’t like to buy things in “free to play” games. Here are some of them:

  • “They’re ‘free to play’! ‘Free’ is right in the name. That means I don’t have to spend any money.”
  • “I won’t pay real money for pixels.”
  • “It’s just a game.”

The term “free to play” is a bit of a misnomer. The name “free to play” does not mean everything in the game is free. Yes, it’s free to download the game and you can play it as much as you want for free, but in most of these games, there is either content you can’t get if you never pay, or you’ll find yourself working much harder for things that paying players can get right away. DW:L has a little bit of content you can’t get for free, in its Fan Area, but in general, it went the second route. You might take 40 plays of a level to obtain an ally that a paying player can buy from the store, so it’s really just a matter of which you prefer to do: spend time, or spend money.

The real issue are the second two claims, or specifically, how people view games, especially computer games. There’s a popular view that games are for children, or not serious, or just a diversion. In my opinion, they are just as valid a source of entertainment as books, movies, TV, and music, and no one has a problem paying for those. Take any game you’ve played and enjoyed: Doctor Who: Legacy, hopefully, but if not, let’s try Farmville, or World of Warcraft, or Call of Duty, or even things like Monopoly, or poker, or solitaire. How much time have you spent playing that game? You may have enjoyed it for any number of reasons: the game itself, the strategy, winning, the social interactions… The list goes on. And for most games, people go on to talk about it with their friends, about the characters or items you’ve collected, or the raid last week, or “What’s your strategy for beating that boss?” or “Remember that time we played poker in the dorm lounge?” People devote hundreds of hours to playing games and talking about them, and still consider them less valid as entertainment and media than that movie they paid $7 to see that got 23% on Rotten Tomatoes. (That’s The Decoy Bride, by the way. I will never get those eighty-nine minutes of my life back.)

And there’s the thing: these games provide valued entertainment, and someone makes them. Games don’t come out nowhere. There are probably twenty or thirty people whose jobs it is to create the DW:L software, design the characters and levels, draw the art, test all of it when it’s put together, and reach out to the players to help them with issues and find out what they want, and they do this every week. For the DW:L team, who are all fans of the show, it’s a labor of love, but it’s also their livelihood, what puts food on their tables. They’ve put together a marvelous game, and they’ve offered it as F2P so that as many fans can play it as possible. They could have made it a $15 one-payment-only app, but only a fraction of the fanbase would have even tried it out. F2P makes it so that the people who continue to play the game support its further development.

So think about it. I’m not saying to pay money to all F2P games; I’m asking you to throw a dollar or two in the direction of the F2P games that are really good, that have entertained you and made you happy. Has Doctor Who: Legacy given you 20 hours of quality entertainment? Then support them. You’ll be helping pay for their salaries as well as funding future content and development on the game. And you’ll be getting some Time Crystals in return, to help you enjoy your game more right now. It’s win-win, helping them (and telling them in the most direct way that you like what they’re doing) and getting something for you. If I can get even one person to make a purchase in Doctor Who: Legacy who otherwise wouldn’t have, I would so happy, because I really believe they deserve our support.