Cafe World Removes Free Roofs

When we were poking around Cafe World for our post about the new vampire items, we noticed something strange. There used to be a full screen of 14 roofs available in the outdoor store, but now there are only 12. Or so we thought. We checked, and sure enough, we luckily snapped a screenshot of the roofs section of the outdoor store, when it went live:

Now, compare that to the roofs store today (you can click on either image for a full-size look):

There used to be a few roofs players could buy with Cafe Cash, OR buy with a huge number of coins – three to nine million coins, to be exact. The coffee house roof, the french style roof, and the pirate ship roof are the three that could be purchased in both ways.

But now, the coin versions of the coffee house and the french style roofs have been removed. Players can only obtain them via Cafe Cash. The coin version of the pirate ship roof is the only one of the three remaining, for sale for nine million coins.

So… what happened? Is this another error, like the FrontierVille ribbon removal? Or did Zynga discover that if they gave players a free method for obtaining an item, no matter how lengthy, players will continually opt for that route?

Our stance is that social game companies charging for premium items or features is fine. We’re believers in the free-to-play, pay-for-item business model, and we believe it is very consumer friendly. Considerably more consumer friendly than a company charging $60 up front to access their game before the player even knows if they really like it or not. But this model only remains consumer friendly if the social game developers behave themselves.

Where we have a problem is when a company makes a pivot like this after the items or features are live. Once something is released, there is a consumer expectation of permanence, as long as the offer isn’t specifically labeled as limited or temporary. Once players are involved in real-money transactions in a game, it is scary to see supposedly permanent shop items removed with no notice. It reinforces the belief that the developer does not respect their players.

How can we feel secure spending our money in a game when Zynga changes the rules on the fly for what is paid and what is free, and changes the rules for what is and isn’t for sale? If Zynga wants to run tests by releasing both paid and free versions of some items, that’s fine. But they can’t change their mind halfway through, and quietly make changes without any kind of alert or notice. Or at least, they can’t behave this way and expect to continue receiving business from those players that notice.

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