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Free-to-play games often look appealing, but it’s difficult
to know at a glance whether the business model is insidious and
fun ruining, or reasonable and worth pumping a few bucks into.
With Freemium
Field Test, we’ll take a recent free-to-play iOS game, put
it through its paces, and let you know if it’s really worth
your time (and money).

Baseball has been a lot more exciting for me since the Cubs won
the World Series. I was there outside Wrigley Field last
November when they won it all, surrounded by raucous revelers,
and then I attended the home opener to see the championship
flag unveiled. It’s energized me, and now I’m even watching
more games on TV than I have over the past few years. It’s been
a nice shot in the arm for my flagging MLB fandom.

Likewise, that old itch to play baseball video games has
returned, although I no longer have the kind of free time that
allowed me to pour hours into MVP Baseball in college. So I was
certainly intrigued when I saw Glu’s
MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2017 pop up in the
App Store, promising all of the official teams and players with
a streamlined, on-the-go sensibility. However, this freemium
affair is just too dull, repetitive, and obnoxiously monetized
to satisfy.

The pitch 

Andrew Hayward/IDG

Here’s your view for pretty much the entire game.

As mentioned above, this year’s Tap Sports Baseball entry has
the full Major League Baseball and Players Association
licenses, meaning you can swing the bat as any star player
wearing all of the official garb. That’s encouraging. So I
picked my favorite team, started up a game, and got ready to
smack homers as Anthony Rizzo or the game’s icon star, Kris
Bryant.

Sadly, neither of the Cubs’ heavy hitters were on the roster,
nor were star hurlers like Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta. In fact,
the vast majority of the roster was MIA. They’re in MLB Tap
Sports Baseball 2017, somewhere, but they weren’t on
the Cubs. Not my Cubs, at least. 

That’s because Tap Sports Baseball’s free-to-play approach is
built around amassing players gradually over time and building
out your dream roster. So instead of giving you the Cubs or Red
Sox or Giants that you know and love, you get a few mid-tier
starters and then a bunch of lower-level players from all
around the league.

fft mlbtapsports17 menuAndrew Hayward/IDG

Glu packs a lot of freemium stuff on one menu
screen.

And that’s just one of the early surprises once you start
playing. The other is that Tap Sports Baseball is built
entirely around batting, which means you’ll never take
the mound to throw pitches, never have to try to make a great
play in the field, and can’t manually sprint around the bases.
You’ll occasionally decide whether to send a runner to home or
another base, but that’s just a press of a button. The only
tapping you’ll do in this sport is to swing a bat or navigate
through menus.

Expectedly, that approach turns tedious pretty quickly. There
isn’t much nuance to hitting here: it’s purely a matter of
timing your tap and swinging at pitches in the strike zone.
That would be fine if there were more happening once you smack
the ball into play or once you switch sides, but as the
entirety of the play experience, it gets old quickly. That’s
true whether you’re taking turns to bat in asynchronous play
against another player (the computer controls your pitchers),
or zipping through a full game in one sitting against an A.I.
opponent.

The catch

fft mlbtapsports17 icepackAndrew Hayward/IDG

Paid power-ups can help give you an edge.

You won’t find a solution for that problem: no amount of time
played or money paid will unlock the rest of the on-the-field
experience, and every game revolves around batting. However,
what you can potentially obtain over time is the grand roster
you desire, with all of your favorite players on their proper
team. 

That won’t be easy—or cheap, for that matter. MLB Tap Sports
Baseball 2017 weaves a tangled web of promotional offers and
free items as you play, with player draft picks, daily mystery
boxes, in-game cash, and coins. What you’ll find, most of the
time, is that the free draft picks rarely yield you skilled
players, and the free currency doesn’t get you anywhere near
being able to buy the kind of all-star players you really want.

For that, you’ll probably need to spend real money on bundles
of gold, which range in price from $5 for 400 bars to $100 for
10,400 bars. You’ll slowly accumulate a little bit of gold for
playing and winning tournaments, but the rewards are few and
far between. And watching a short video ad, for example, only
gives you a handful of bars. 

fft mlbtapsports17 rentAndrew Hayward/IDG

Some players are merely rentals; you’ll have to shell out gold
to keep them around a bit longer.

You can also complete “special offers” for gold, like spending
real money to sign up for streaming video services or credit
score monitoring, but it all seems incredibly skeevy. Glu
offers no illusions here: they want to get you hooked and then
extract money from you by any means necessary.

So what can you get for your precious gold? You can sign single
free agent players for a sum, or drop bars on randomized draft
picks at different quality levels. I did the latter, investing
in enough golf for a couple of “#1 Draft Picks” that were only
marginally better than the players I already had. I spent $10
on gold to make that happen. I also spent $3 to get a special
pack with a rookie (read: lower-skilled) version of Kris
Bryant, so at least I got one player I wanted. 

You can also buy team-specific player packs that can help you
quickly achieve that dream roster. It can be wildly expensive,
however: the Red Sox “Die-Hard Pack,” including Xander
Bogaerts, Craig Kimbrel, and Drew Pomeranz, costs 12,000 gold.
That’s something like $120 worth of real money. For that much,
you could get a couple of decent seats at Fenway and see a real
baseball game.

fft mlbtapsports17 dealAndrew Hayward/IDG

If this is 85% off, then… it’s usually $20? How?!

The game also incentivizes the act of spending money by
offering rewards based on how much gold you spend—so you can
get the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, for example, but you’ll have to
spend $100 worth of gold for that “freebie.” I really don’t
advise doing that.

The verdict

MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2017’s supposed payoff just doesn’t
seem worth the massive amounts of time and/or money that you’d
have to invest in it. Were this a genuinely absorbing game,
then maybe the chase to build the perfect roster would be
exciting and engaging, rather than a huge, likely expensive
hassle. But it’s entirely the latter in this case.

As a simple bat-swinging diversion, MLB Tap Sports Baseball
2017 is fine for a few quick minutes of play here and there,
but the obnoxious freemium layers are thick and unavoidable.
Given the rote, never-evolving gameplay, there is no incentive
to try and spend your way to a championship squad.

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