The absurd economics of Asphalt 8 Airborne

I’ve been trying to understand the economics behind Asphalt 8 Airborne. It’s an incredibly fun and well-designed game that has really innovated racing the racing genre. Barrel-rolls, flat-spins, knockdowns and simplified controls (There is no accelerator — you just go!) have really breathed new life into a an otherwise tired but ever-popular genre of video games.

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The “home screen” of the game. A weird bug prevents events or multiplayer from working until you’ve played for a few minutes.

Though it originated on mobile, I discovered it on Apple TV and am glad I did. I can’t imagine having the control I need or getting a fraction of the game’s experience on a phone or even tablet. I played it pretty consistently until I hit the inevitable pay-wall — the part of the game where you simply can’t progress further without paying up. I’ve hit the pay-wall many times in mobile games, however in my opinion the best ones still leave a path for those who want to progress solely through skill. Others require modest purchases. And then there’s Asphalt 8.

Some basic economics: You start the game with 1 car. Then you win credits in races, to buy upgrades and more cars. Races earn you anywhere from less than 1,000 — 12,000+, but only when you are earning stars. Replaying races generally gets you about 2,000–5,000. A decent car will run you 80k — 150k. Fully upgrading the car costs roughly 14-50X the cost of the car. The most expensive car I’ve bought in the game was the Ferrari FXX Evoluzione for 190,000 credits.

And for some reason, there is a second type of currency called tokens. Tokens have a much higher value, and you earn them mostly in events (special, limited-time races) and car “mastery” races; 10–50 at a time, alongside credits.

To get all the stars and complete the game, you must buy and max out every car. The in-game currency required to do this is insane. The calculations below were made with info from this wikia.

  • 53,419,450 credits and 187,400 tokens to purchase all cars

Now, for time. If each race takes about 3 minutes, and on average you earn 3,600 credits, I calculate:

  • 3,156 hrs of pure race time

This time does not including time in between races, tuning cars, time for eat/drink/bathroom, and this doesn’t even account for earning the 187,000 tokens.

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The IAPs.

This means that you have 2 choices if you want to complete the game: spend an absurd amount of money, or spend perhaps years of playing time. I read an account from another fan of the game who quit because he simply cannot devote enough time and money to complete the game.

This is unfortunate. It results in the fans of the game essentially being cut-off from playing it, and ultimately abandonment. Isn’t this counter to how games are designed? Aren’t they supposed to keep you coming back?

I’ve unlocked every season in the game, and I simply cannot progress further. I need faster cars to beat the races I’ve unlocked so I can earn credits, but I can’t upgrade or buy faster cars because of lack of credits. It’s a catch-22 and the only way out is to shell out.

If this were an Xbox or Playstation game, it would easily sell for at least $40. But clearly the financial realities of video games today is that they make more money with in-app purchases. This is a far cry from the original path of micro-transactions that IAPs began with. Even if I did bite the bullet and spent say, $50, that only gets me 1 stock, un-upgraded car. The pay-wall in this game is so steep that it prevents you from playing it at all.

Related: I asked if it’s possible to complete the game on Arqade.

Written by

Dreamer and schemer, designer turned developer. Lover of music and fine ales.

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