Crossy Road: An Allegory for the Futility of the Working Class in a Capitalist Economy

Crossy Road is the latest iPhone game craze. It has been described, aptly in my opinion, as “endless Frogger”. I’ve been playing it more and more over the past few days since it is simple and fun and, being an iPhone game, is always in my pocket. Just this morning as I was playing, I had an epiphany and thought I would share it.

The game is very simple. You play as any of a number of characters, the default being the proverbial chicken. You have to get your character as far as you can across dangerous terrain of roads, train tracks and rivers without getting smooshed. Roads have cars, trucks and other automobile-type vehicles of varying speeds. Train tracks have high-speed trains (though there is always a crossing warning). Rivers have stationary lily pads and moving logs that you have to use to get across. The further you get, the harder it is to safely move forward. If you ever stop moving, the “chicken hawk” (at least that’s what I call it) comes to grab you and take you away.

What has been getting press about this game so far (besides the fact that it is darned good fun) is that it is a “freemium” game, i.e. it is free to download and play but you can pay real-world money to “upgrade” the experience. Most freemium games have a “pay-to-win” model of some level. They do this by offering items or power-ups that help you win easier. And a lot of times, winning is tied with discovering new content. You can play without paying a cent and eventually see everything the game has to offer, but it will take you a lot longer than if you pay a little money. And once you pay a little money, even just ninety-nine cents, it gets a lot easier to pay a little more, and a little more, and a little more.1 But Crossy Road doesn’t employ this traditional kind of freemium pricing model.

Crossy Road’s freemium pricing model is all about getting new characters to play as. These new characters are almost completely cosmetic. If anything, they make the game harder to play by changing the environment to match the character, making it darker or harder to see. You can obtain the new characters by either paying 99¢ or by using coins. You obtain coins by picking them up as you play, by watching short ad videos, or periodically the game gives you some as a gift. And this is the part that had me thinking of economic models.

You see, the point of the game is to get as far as you can before you die. Ultimately, the one that comes after you starts over at the beginning. If you work hard, you might get some coins, maybe some will be given to you for one reason or another. All the coins do for you, however, is change the trappings of your short life. They do nothing to improve your station, allow you to get further, free you from the treadmill or prevent your ultimate demise under the wheels of “progress” …

  1. See the book Free: The Future of a Radical Price and discussions of the sunk cost fallacy for why this is such a cunning strategy psychologically. 


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