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I respect the hell out of Sid Meier and what he’s done for the industry. I’ve been a long time Civilization, Pirates and Railroad sim fan. Not only am I a Firaxis fan, but as you’d guess, I’m also a champion for the freemium/F2P business model (as well as gaming as a whole) so when I saw Firaxis and F2P combine I was excited to give them a whirl. Let’s take a look at Air Patrol (AP) from Firaxis!

What it does right

Game genre and accessibility

Firaxis and Sid Meier arguably make the best strategy video games (to the point where I basically expect it) so it’s no shock that Ace Patrol is another great and fun strategy game. AP is not only great, but it’s also accessible for new or experienced strategy gamers alike. It starts out with limited moves (maneuvers), pilots earn upgrades/maneuvers after battles and the battles increase with difficulty at an easy pace to bring most players along. This seems like a classic, or perhaps even simple, list of ingredients to a great strategy game but the moves and options make battles a little more challenging over time.

Subject matter

World War games make for some of the best subjects to be accepted worldwide. Most countries have knowledge of their history and in my experience, if localized, work well in many different countries with varying cultural differences. Most other game subjects need to be localized not only in language but also graphics to match the cultural differences in gaming so having a game with a context that doesn’t require as much localization helps keep costs lower.

Upgradable planes and pilots

I have a lot of options in this game. I can select pilots, upgrades and customize my planes and I can learn new maneuvers as my pilot levels. All these options give the player thousands of configurations but at the same time I’m not overwhelmed. I might not fully understand which maneuver best fits my playing style, but players learn over time.

Here’s one of the IAP menus. There are campaigns, special plane skins and improvements.

Here’s a screenshot of the customization options from the multiplayer menu. It’s difficult to see all the plane options and upgrades because there are several sub-menus.

 Choice in missions

As a player I love choice so naturally I love the ability to chose my the mission of my choice. I can cater the mission to the way I like to play (e.g. defensive or offensive based missions for my defensive or offensive preference in play style) but it also makes me feel like I’m doing something meaningful towards the overall battle.

Can’t force quit restart

If something isn’t working out in a game that I’m playing I can usually force quit the game, restart it and retry a level without paying money/virtual currency for retries if the game is monetizating on that mechanic. I screwed up a move in a level I was play in AP, force quit the game and returned to find out that the game saves after a completed turn so I was stuck with the game that I had started.


I love the asynchronous and also synchronous approach. If I can’t play a long session time then I can let my opponent take their turn and I’ll come back to it later. If I want to play a longer session with a friend we can both sit down and play a full match. There’s even head to head on the same device though I rarely use that functionality.

However, if I want to play a complete session with a stranger then it’s the luck of the draw with whether or not they can play a complete game with me but there’s not much Firaxis could do to prevent that from happening.

What could be improved


I know I just listed this as something that worked well, but I have some complaints/concerns with how it currently works:

  1. I wish I could chose the game type that I was playing. I want different plane configurations for the various game objectives, but I don’t know what type of game I’m about to play when selecting my loadouts. I love elements of chance in games, but not an element of chance with the objective when I’m setting my planes up.
  2. It’s not always clear or obvious what type of game you’re about to play. There’s just a small banner at the bottom with the objective but I’ve played against players who have missed this and thought the game was just deathmatch or skirmish.

3. Randomly generated maps can create unfair disadvantages. As you can see from the screenshot below my enemies base is protected by land bases with anti-air artillery. If I fly over them I run the risk of them damaging or shooting down my planes. On the other hand, my base only has one base next to it and has clouds. I can’t target enemies in the clouds so my opponent only needs to get close enough to enter the clouds and he’ll win because I won’t be able to shoot him down in the clouds.

Business model

I’m preparing for a backlash of F2P hating comments, but Firaxis could’ve made more money with a true F2P business model. This is basically a premium/lite game meaning players need to purchase the a majority of the content through an IAP (premium), but players can get a taste/demo for free (lite). It looks like the game is charting OK right now but they’re also being featured by Apple. We’ll see if the game can hold a steady position. I’m predicting it won’t because players who want the content are likely going to purchase and then those who don’t feel compelled won’t. F2P models can generate much more revenue because they allow players to become repeat spenders, but in order to do so you really should have a virtual currency. Which brings me to my next point.

No virtual currency

All purchases in game are done through IAPs. Want to purchase the campaign to continue playing? You need to go through Apple’s IAP process which includes entering your password which is a hassle. Want a plane skin? Apple IAP process. Want to heal your pilots? Apple IAP process. If they could have a virtual currency then I could buy enough currency to purchase a magnitude of things. I could buy plane/pilot upgrades, maneuvers, different planes, different pilots, plane skins, campaigns, weapons, heal/rescue units and the list can go on and on. There are literally thousands of combinations of virtual items that could think of. However, making players complete an IAP is a point of friction. Take away the friction or make it happen less then your players will spend more money.

If they created virtual currencies then it would be great to also check out my article on boosting virtual economies.

Gated campaigns

Gating content means players can’t access some portion of the game’s content until they pass through a “gate.” Examples of gates could be registration forms, require players to connect to social networks or in this game it’s purchase the content via IAP. This is also known as a paywall. A paywall is a point in a game where you ask players to purchase something to continue progressing/playing or leave. It’s better to implement a virtual currency system and allow players to earn currency through grinding or IAP to unlock content.

Opt not to purchase and lose save

I played through the first 6 missions on my initial play through and when the system prompted me to purchase the British campaign for $0.99. I declined. I then found out that the game will reset your progress and you’ll need to start over. I understand that there wasn’t any more missions for me to play but a warning that all my progress was going to be erased would’ve been nice.


The UI in game is a little difficult to press sometimes, but I don’t have a better solution I think that just comes with the nature of the strategy games on a touch device. However, the 2D buttons and text on the menus could certainly improve. They look fuzzy, and lower definition. Menus and the like can look so crisp on a retina display, and most games don’t have problems with blurry text.

Gating before Freemium

Sid Meier has been designing and developing games for decades and he’s not showing any signs of slowing down. However, F2P is fairly new for everyone (experienced or n00bs) and it takes a bit of time to master or refine for studios. It’s easy for developers to look at F2P and say “I could just sell packs of content via IAPs.” It’s a logical step between Premium and full blown Freemium, but it’s also not putting your best foot forward. I haven’t seen a knockout F2P title (from a monetization level) from Firaxis, but they certainly haven’t been bad either. They’re learning a thing or two from games like Ace Patrol, and I think one of their future F2P is going to do pretty well.

If you’d like to talk about this or any other games you can find me here at my blog, the NativeX blog or on Twitter.