Time and skill: video games have demanded one or both of these investments from players for over three decades. The skilful player is able to move through a game on merit, mastering its systems through experience or natural ability. The time-rich player is able to progress through investment of effort, increasing their character's strengths through repetition, accruing in-game currency to purchase a faster car or sharper sword.
The mainstream free-to-play model popularised by FarmVille has altered this recipe in a fundamental way. In order to make the game appeal to as broad a range of players as possible, the skill requirement is removed and replaced with money. Now, game progress is achieved through time investment (waiting for your crops to mature, buildings to erect or soldiers to train) or financial investment as you pay real money to expedite the process. Good free-to-play games find ways to inject some of the old skill into the mix, but the poor ones ask for nothing more of their players than persistence or wealth. In these cases, free-to-play presents more than a mere shift of business model; it changes the very nature of a game.
Pixel People is a free-to-play game dressed to appeal to skilful game players. It assumes a bright, sharp pixel-art aesthetic and employs enticing imperatives like 'Splice', 'Explore', 'Discover' and 'Build' that imply the need for ability and the capacity for self-expression. But it's soon clear that Pixel People is an exquisitely presented game with a hollow heart, asking players for their time or money and offering little satisfaction in return.