It’s bad enough when free games run amok and wreak havoc. But what would happen if they started… evolving?
It’s a regular day. You’re walking down the street when you spot a phone, lying on the ground. It looks dejected and defenseless. A Normal Lost Phone [official site] branded “Accidental Queens.” It’s ringing. You take a closer look, and remember: you have seen this phone somewhere. The image flashes before your eyes: Brendan warned you to stay away, that it was dangerous. That it had killed before. Curiosity overwhelms you: you tell yourself you shouldn’t, but you pick it up. It’s Ulule, a crowdfunding website. They’re asking for money to turn a free prototype into a complete game. They name inspirations: Gone Home, Her Story, Life Is Strange. Will you reply?
By now, you’re too intrigued to walk away. Against your better judgement, you ask for more information. A short trailer starts playing.
You protest that the trailer didn’t really show anything at all!
They explain that the free prototype is still playable, if you want a taste of what’s to come. They’ll rework the script, flesh out the characters, add new apps and puzzles, but that should give you a good idea of what the game will play like. You open the link: it’s someone’s phone. You rifle through the texts, the pictures. It’s all beautifully drawn. You pay attention to the dates and guess the owner’s social media passwords. You piece the story back together, bit by bit. Suddenly, a throwaway text you read way back at the beginning takes on new meaning.
The voice continues: “The storyline touches on topics including youth, coming of age, homophobia, depression and the pursuit of self-identity.”
The campaign is already half-way through its £7,753/10,000€ target. A copy of the game will cost you 15€. Yes, they sigh, that’s about £12 to you.
Think carefully about what you’re doing. This free game will be unrecognisable, it’ll walk the streets and no one will suspect anything about its past. Will it grow into a well-groomed and behaved priced game? Or will it mingle with the best gaming has to offer, only to reveal that its essence had never changed? That, deep down inside, it was still a dangerous free game, after all?