Rovio Quietly Switches Tiny Thief to Free to Play, Makes Existing Players Pay Again

Rovio Quietly Switches Tiny Thief to Free to Play, Makes Existing Players Pay Again

Mobile game Tiny Thief has gone free-to-play. But don't expect any special treatment if you previously purchased it.

A while back, Rovio released a mobile game called Tiny Thief. It was well-received, at least partly for the fact that it was proof the company could put out a game without Angry Birds shoehorned into it somewhere, but also for being a fun game.

Mobile game and app site Android Police reports that the formerly $2.99 app has updated to go free-to-play with in-app purchases -- and that those who originally paid for the game are not being given any special treatment, meaning that they effectively have to pay for the game content again via in-app purchase. On top of that, the game is now plastered with advertising, too. Android Police only mentioned the Google Play Android version, but a quick peek at the App Store reveals that the iOS version has been changed in this manner, too.

The silly thing here is that Tiny Thief was -- is -- a good game, but Rovio's handling of the situation has caused a lot of disgruntled customers to lose trust in the Angry Birds developer.

The original pay-once version of Tiny Thief featured five episodes, each split into five levels apiece, all of which were accessible to everyone who bought the game. Now, the game sells access to two of the episodes that were in the original game plus a new sixth episode for $1.99 a pop, or $4.99 for all three -- double the price of the original game. And you can bet that Rovio's long-term plan for the game is to continue releasing episodes that players have to pay for in the future.

The issue here isn't that Rovio is charging for what are essentially level packs -- as freemium games go, this is one of the more consumer-friendly approaches, since it doesn't throttle your play sessions but does provide you with the opportunity to "try before you buy" similar to an extensive demo, or the shareware versions of days gone by. The problem here is that Rovio is not honoring previous purchases prior to the shift to freemium; instead, it's asking that players effectively pay again for a game they've already bought.

Understandably, the move has led to a swathe of one-star reviews on the Google Play app store as disgruntled players find they no longer have access to some of the game's content. To Rovio's credit, however, both Android Police and its commenter community report that the company is honoring refunds relatively quickly and without question -- but that unfortunately doesn't change the fact that making a move like this without warning and without compensation to those who have already paid is not a very pleasant thing to do. It's also a sobering reminder that games treated as an ongoing service -- as many mobile games are -- can be updated, tweaked and generally made all but unrecognizable from their original form at a moment's notice, and there's not a lot you can do about it in many cases save for asking the platform holder for a refund if a game or app turns into something you don't like.

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