Real Racing 3 puts a price on your patience
Electronic Arts’ Real Racing 3 is the latest installment in this popular mobile racing franchise, serving up gorgeous visuals and a fun, fluid racing experience for Android and iOS devices. It’s also free (a first for the series), but the game’s in-app purchase system has proven to be a bit contentious.
The game offers two forms of currency: dollars, which are earned by completing races and competitions, and gold coins, which can be attained by leveling up your driver or spending real-world cash. This is where the trouble starts.
After a few races you’ll notice that your car’s tires are in dire need of service, or that your engine could use a few upgrades to keep pace with the competition. These modifications take time, during which your car will be unavailable—you can wait a few minutes for everything to finish, or just fork over some gold coins to get back into the action. And while you could theoretically ignore calls to fix your suspension or mend that busted headlight, your car’s performance will suffer, making it harder to stay competitive.
This is a tricky subject. My racing experience is limited to flailing about in Forza 4 and fond memories of Road Rash and Need for Speed when I was wee, but I can still appreciate the allure of going really, really fast in expensive virtual sports cars. As with any enjoyable gaming experience, there’s that drive (ha!) to keep on going, just one more lap—an impulse that’s curtailed by seemingly these seemingly arbitrary limitations. Almost paradoxically, the more you enjoy the game the more often you’ll run into these enforced breaks, forcing you to chooses between racing conservatively, cracking open your wallet, or simply finding something else to do.
Plenty of free-to-play games rely on resources like “energy” to limit the number of moves you can make every hour or so. And competitive racing in Real Racing 3 is asynchronous; while you’re technically racing against friends and other users from around the world, you’re only actually attempting to beat their best times. AI doppelgangers populate the tracks and take care of the actual racing, so there’s never any real pressure to dive in and beat someone’s time right-this-second.
And arguably more importantly: the game is free. Eliminating the price tag doesn’t give the developers a free pass to throw up annoying artificial roadblocks, but it does help keep things in perspective. Ultimately, you have to decide how much your time is worth. I’m not averse to spending money on games that are “free” (as evinced by my roster of League of Legends characters and their awesome outfits), but I’ve had no trouble setting my iPad aside when my Nissan is in need of an oil change. Since the game is free to download, you should probably just head on over to the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store and take it for a spin yourself.