Ruth sits down at her desk, her newly acquired mug of coffee clinking as she places it beside her keyboard. I hear the click of her mouse, the rustle as she adjusts her keyboard. It's 9:05am.
"How was your evening?" she asks. I don't think she's looking at me. I certainly don't look up.
My evening was fine. Tap.
"Everything okay? You're staring at your phone."
I'm planting beans.
Ruth doesn't press further. She knows better.
It's not like I'm enjoying this. We Rule, the iPhone game I'm compulsively tapping, isn't about enjoyment in the typical sense. It’s difficult for me to define the draw of the game. The closest I can figure is that the game is built on a foundation of rewarding frivolous responsibility. I could be doing something else, but I'm delivering gowns for Julian's tea party. For the good of my kingdom.
Typing that last sentence filled me with much self-loathing.
We Rule is essentially a Farmville clone. Like that titan of social network gaming, the object of the game is to tend to your land: building farms, constructing cottages, setting up trade areas, sprinkling in a few decorative trees or ponds. The reward for this virtual landscaping is gold and experience points, naturally.
These actions also take time—a plot of corn may grow in a few minutes, but beans take twenty four real time hours before they're ready to harvest. That can slow the process down quite a bit.
Unless I use Mojo. Essentially a magical Miracle-Gro, Mojo makes your plants practically leap out of the soil and demand to be eaten. It also hastens construction of new buildings, fulfillment of trade goods and anything else that can take up precious time on your road to high-level heaven. Mojo is the miracle drug of We Rule—in modern gaming parlance, it's We Rule's wall hack, except it's fully endorsed.
So of course it comes with a price.
In the 12 levels I've obtained in We Rule, I've accomplished the following bullet points:
• Upgraded my town hall to a citadel
• Developed a small but thriving agricultural trade
• Established a diverse marketplace, including a tailoring shop, mine and wizard's tower
• Taxed the ever-living snot out of my people
I've mostly built this charming kingdom without performance-enhancing drugs, but can already see the writing on the wall. I'm routinely checking my phone throughout the day to harvest pumpkins and build pine trees. My friends in We Rule, culled from my iPhone's address book or my Twitter feed, are easily outpacing me. My gut tells me they've been taking shortcuts.
And if they can, why can't I?
Welcome to We Rule's revenue model.
This is just what developer Ngmoco wants me to think. With prices that range from $0.99 for 5 Mojo to $50 for 800 vials of the good stuff, there's plenty of room for players to spend a little to get a lot. It's incredibly tempting to tap in my credit card number and keep progressing through the game's 20 levels. On principle, the microtransaction model doesn't bother me since I'll get what I'm paying for. So why not? Everyone else is doing it, right?
No, I must remain strong. I'm not there yet. I'm simply not ready to take the easy way out. There are crops to plant, fences to erect and I should probably answer that work email if there's time. We'll see.
Is We Rule a fun game? Honestly, there's very little game to be found here. There's no overall goal—certainly no story—to keep me progressing through levels, except for the self-imposed rat-race of trying to keep pace with my friends' kingdoms. Virtual landscaping for ego.
Instead, We Rule provides more of a community experience, wrapped up in the superficial trappings of a strategy game. That constant interaction—seeing their kingdoms' layouts evolve, commissioning trade goods from them—has consumed more of my attention than I would have guessed. For the price of a free download from the App Store, that's impressive.
Having caved, though—having finally jumped into the pool of these social games, where what matters is the vanity of having a pretty kingdom or having spent the most on items that essentially let you cheat your way though the game—that's the ultimate price. In that regard, I've paid in full.