Free-to-play games often look appealing, but it’s difficult to know at a glance whether the business model is insidious and fun ruining, or reasonable and worth pumping a few bucks into. With Freemium Field Test, we’ll take a recent free-to-play iOS game, put it through its paces, and let you know if it’s really worth your time (and money).

I have a four-year-old son who happily flips out every time we see a Walt Disney World commercial on TV, so I’ve spent the last year grimacing at the thought of how much money we’ll have to shell out to bring him there. It’s mind-numbing, but I know it’ll be worth it.

Truth be told, you could probably spend as much money seeking happiness within Disney Magic Kingdoms, Gameloft’s free-to-play park-builder based on the theme park, but I sincerely doubt you’ll find it here. Magic Kingdoms has a cavalcade of classic characters and an eye-catching cartoonish look, but it’s built on an obnoxious formula: not only is it slow and boring, but pumping in money also doesn’t do nearly enough to help that.

The pitch 

Disney World is a pretty perfect inspiration for a building game, and Magic Kingdoms lets you construct your own colorful theme park based on sights from various Disney and Pixar films and cartoons. Massive castle? Check. Gargantuan roller coaster? Yup. Al’s Toy Barn from Toy Story 2? You got it.


So many buttons to tap! Coming back to the game can be a little overwhelming.

Disney Magic Kingdoms picks up shortly after Maleficent casts an evil haze upon the area, stripping away the magic and fun and replacing it all with fog and crows. Not the most inviting place anymore, eh? Well, that’s Mickey’s job to fix, and he’ll do so by recruiting friends, establishing buildings and rides, and pleasing kids along the way. It’s all rather charming and well-intentioned, naturally.

But it’s a very gradual process filled with lots of waiting and busywork. For example, you’ll have a task to complete: like, telling the hard-working Woody from Toy Story to take a breather, which would take six hours to complete. He deserves a break, right? Problem is, Woody can’t take a break until I have Jessie’s Snack Roundup on the map. And Jessie’s Snack Roundup can only be built if Jessie is at character level two.

mw disneymk kidsGameloft

Kids have dreams, and you can make them come true—assuming Mickey and Woody aren’t otherwise occupied, of course.

Fair enough. But I need a handful of items to upgrade Jessie, so I send Mickey and Goofy out on other tasks to find those. Finally, I have everything, so I upgrade Jessie… and wait for the timer to tick down. At last, I can build the Snack Roundup, right? Wait, I don’t have enough Magic power now that I spent a chunk on upgrading her. So now I have to focus on that, and poor Woody must be as exhausted as I am at this point. And the saddest thing is, all I did during that runaround was tap buttons and navigate menus: there’s almost zero active gameplay here.

The catch 

Long story short, a seemingly simple task will often take hours, if not days of middling runarounds meant to draw out the game—and potentially push you towards spending money on magic and gems to speed up those pesky timers and skip the item requirements.

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