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Real Racing 3: Freemium Done Right

If you keep up with news about mobile games at all, you've likely heard complaints about Real Racing 3. It's a free game, but one that reviewers have complained could cost you over $500 in real-world money. On the other hand, it's one of the most downloaded games on the App Store, with great ratings by users. So who should you believe?

I'm typically strongly against free games with in-app purchases for money and coins, since most essentially force you to pay to keep playing — often far more than you would have paid for a game you outright buy. Games that are free to download but let you pay to unlock the rest of the levels — and then let you restore your purchase in the future — seem fine to me, but ones that let you use real-world money for purchases that get used up in the game (such as speeding the game up or enhancing gameplay in some way for a limited time), though, are definitely not ok in my book.

After playing Real Racing 3 off-and-on for several weeks, I've found that it falls on the good side of my freemium game scale. Here's why: you really can play it 100% for free. It's good enough, I'd highly recommend you download it from the App Store or Google Play Store, depending on your device, if you enjoy racing games at all.

That's my short review: Real Racing 3 is great fun, and while there's in-app purchases at almost every turn, you can play as much as you want for free. The graphics are beautiful, the racing simulation is fun, it works perfectly even if you're offline, and I'm surprised it's received as many complaints as it has.

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Racing on a Budget

Here's how Real Racing 3 works. The game, like most freemium games, has two types of in-game currency: money (called RS$), and gold. You'll get money for winning or completing races (ranging from, say, $800 for a short race to over $10,000 for a long, advanced race), and unlocking new events in the game ($2-3,000 each). You'll get gold — 3-5 coins at a time — for getting to a new driver level, or for completing parts of a series.

Repairs

You'll start off with RS$35,000, enough to buy one of the cheapest cars (I went with the Ford Focus) and get started. As you play, you'll end up damaging your car, leaving you needing to pay to, say, replace your windshield or rear-view mirrors (yes, you'll see that damage in-game while playing). You're almost guaranteed to make enough in a race to more than pay for your repairs, and you can repair instantly. Just a few taps at the end of a game, and you're fixed.

Want to keep from having to get so many repairs, and have a better shot at winning a race? Break ahead of the pack of cars (as many as 22 in some races) as soon as possible. Otherwise, you'll end up slamming into other cars throughout the race. Also, stay on the track: you'll go faster, and need less repairs (yes, driving on dirt seems to damage your car far faster than it would in real-life).

Servicing

What takes more time — and money — is getting your car serviced. Over time, you'll need to get your oil and tires changed, as well as get your engine, suspension, and brakes service. This will take RS$ as well as time, up to 15 minutes for some servicing. Your car's performance will be worse until you get it serviced when it's needed, so you'll want to go ahead and do it.

The game will offer to let you spend coins to get repairs done immediately, but I'd recommend just waiting since coins are far more scarce in the game. Since it's a mobile game, if you play it like most of us play casual games, you'll be able to pay for, say, 15 minutes, then get the servicing done to your car and go on with life. Next time you want to play, your car will be ready. You can also do get multiple things services at once, so waiting on, say, your oil until your engine needs serviced too lets you take less time.

Yet another tip: once you have 2 or more cars, you can just play with another car while the other one is being serviced. You'll likely never need to literally wait for servicing with that.

Upgrades

Now, each car you buy will need upgrades for the best performance, something you'll noticed the need for as you progress through a series. You'll find upgrades for everything from your engine to your exhaust (sadly, there's no Tesla cars in Real Racing 3), and each upgrade will boost your car's performance in some way. They get very expensive, though, especially for more expensive cars, and some top-level upgrades will be billed in coins rather than RS$.

Upgrades will take time to be delivered, but you can keep racing your car while waiting for upgrades to come, albeit without the extra performance. Yes, you can pay coins to get upgrades immediately, but I'd again recommend not using coins to speed things up. If you want an upgrade that costs coins, use them there, but don't use coins to speed things up unless you're ready to shell out real world dollars to buy more coins. There's also one more upgrade you can use coins for: changing your car's color. Yup, that's another coin use I'd strongly recommend against.

All upgrades aren't necessary, per-se, but I did fully upgrade my first car to get the most out of it. Cars I purchased later on, though, have only gotten some of the upgrades since I got a bit more frugal with my in-game money.

New Cars

So you've kept racing, gotten your first car upgraded and in perfect repair, and now you've got quite a savings of RS$. It's time to get a new car. Only thing is, which car should you get?

Each event in Real Racing 4 includes the option of 3-4 cars, but you only need one of those cars to get into that event. Each car stars in at least 2 events, and 6 of the cars are in 3 events. Thus, when you purchase your next cars, you'll want to purchase ones that are in events — and hopefully series — that the cars you already have aren't in yet. There's no reason to buy another car from the same event you're already in, since you'll just end up playing the exact same events over again with a new car.

Here's a table I put together that should help you — at least a little — in finding the car you should buy to get into the events and series you want:

If you've saved your coins throughout the game, and haven't used them to speed anything up, then you'll end up with a decent collection of them over time. There's then 2 cars that sell for coins rather than RS$ that end up being approachable: the McLaren MP4-12C for 65 coins, and the Porsche 918 RSR Concept for 150 coins. The latter is how I plan to use my coins when I've earned enough.

Yet another option is spending real-world money for a car pack. There's several car packs that include one or more cars and some gold for, say, a couple real-world dollars. That's not such a bad price if you want more racing fun without waiting for in-app winnings.

There's also the crazy spectrum here: there's supercars that over RS$2.2 million, as well as ones that cost 400 and 800 coins, respectively. Those would cost you $40-$80 in real-world money if you were to buy them with in-app purchases, and would take more time to earn with in-app winnings than most of us would ever play a mobile game. But, still, most of the cars are well within the approachable price range for purchasing them with a reasonable amount of in-app winnings.

One more final thing on cars: they, too, take time to get delivered, and the wait time seems to go up with the value of the car. You could pay coins to get your car immediately, but again, I'd advise just waiting. Perhaps buy a car at the end of your racing session, and the next time you're ready to race, you'll have a new car waiting for you to drive. Not bad.

Why I Still Love Real Racing 3

Now, the racing is not terribly realistic. AI cars have a tendency to slam into your car far more than I've ever seen in a racing game, almost seeming to want to damage your car. And no matter how fast your car is, it's almost impossible to overtake the best AI cars when you're going straight, though you're guaranteed to overtake them on turns.

But you know what? It's still fun as far as racing games go. If you loved the classic Need for Speed games back in the '90's, you'll find Real Racing 3 just as enjoyable, if not more so with the high res graphics. And it also works 100% fine offline, something that can't be said for every game these days (even EA's own SimCity requires an internet connection to play now).

If there's one thing I wish Real Racing 3 didn't have — or would remove in future updates — it'd be the wait times. Using in-game RS$ to buy upgrades, repairs, servicing, and new cars makes sense, and even adding your own real-world money to add on some fancy cars is reasonable enough. The wait times is, in my opinion, what has made people so frustrated by Real Racing 3 so far. As I explained above, the wait times don't have to kill the game, or even make it that frustrating, but not having them would make it feel much more like a straight-out traditional game rather than a mobile, in-app centric game.

But you know what? I think I'll still keep playing Real Racing 3, just like I must have played the basic Proving Grounds track in Need for Speed IISE dozens of times. It's fun, and sure worth the low price of free.

Thoughts? @reply me on Twitter or App.net