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Why I'm No Longer Playing The Simpsons: Tapped Out (Or, the Exhaustion of Freemium)

Why I'm No Longer Playing The Simpsons: Tapped Out (Or, the Exhaustion of Freemium)

The Simpsons: Tapped Out, the popular mobile game from EA Mobile, is coming upon its 10th anniversary and the game is still going strong. Based on the similarly long-lasting show The Simpsons, Tapped Out shares much of the animated classic’s sharp humour and an ever-growing cast of the series’ beloved characters. Tapped Out appears to be a solid town-building experience on both iOS and Android, with plenty of new buildings and areas to access. Any game needs to have something great about it to keep a dedicated following for 10 whole years and it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that The Simpsons: Tapped Out has greatness in spades. Beyond just being a Simpsons cash grab, the title has a variety of fun options that offer hours upon hours of genuinely fun gameplay, and that’s not even getting into the consistent stream of special events that deliver even more ways to play and a plethora of new buildings, areas, and characters to unlock. Tapped Out is able to add more and more and more good stuff to itself on, what at times seems like a constant basis.

So why am I not playing it?

Those who keep up-to-date with GameGrin’s “What We’re Playing” weekly articles — and who recognise my name in that list — may notice that I’ve not once listed The Simpsons: Tapped Out, and that’s not a mistake. I have not touched the game in the past two years I’ve worked at GameGrin. At least, not until I sat down to write this article for Tapped Out’s 10th anniversary. But long before I came to GameGrin, almost 10 years ago now, I was one of the earlier players that spent long hours on this incredible Simpsons title. I’ll admit, most of my enjoyment now comes from nostalgia, as I was still very much a young whippersnapper at the time. Even so, I did my darndest to never miss an event and always be ready for my friend visits and character cooldowns to recharge. I’m not personally a huge fan of city-building games and yet I was invested. I had The Simpsons in the palm of my hand and I wasn’t going to stop playing until I’d gotten every single character, every last building, cleared every new event.

 simpsons tapped out screenshot 4

A year passed and there was even more to do. I started to falter. I had other responsibilities outside of the game and I couldn’t spend every waking moment on it, but I still tried. I wasn’t going to spend any money on the game, so I had to time the cooldowns so that I could get back to the game when I had free time. However, I was (and somewhat still am) terrible at time management. I’d come back into the game hours after everything was finished or tens of minutes before most things were ready to get off of cooldowns. Events slipped by without being cleared. I was getting most of the early rewards at least, but my dedication wasn’t enough. Not enough to finish them off. Not enough to make any real headway without the ever-tempting premium currency. At the time, I thought that perhaps I just wasn’t enough, as a gamer, as a fan, as a person. Yet I kept myself facing forward and trying my best. There was always more funny dialogue to be had and the various animations for the characters’ unique actions were a joy to experience.

However, I just didn’t have the stamina to stick with Tapped Out. In essence, I myself became tapped out, exhausted by the process. Eventually, I was signing in, tapping a few regular money-makers — namely the dog races and the Kwik-E-Mart’s scratch-off lotto tickets (called Scratch-Rs and based on the Itchy and Scratchy in-universe television characters) — and signing out. As good as the game was, I simply wasn’t having fun anymore. I’d been obsessed, even in those later moments, and unable to completely step away. I wound up stuck in a rut that had sucked out all of my enjoyment of the game. And because I wasn’t getting anything done in-game, but still spending a lot of time on it, a creeping sense of shame slowly drew over me. I was trapped and exhausted.

simpsons tapped out screenshot 1

This phenomenon was hardly unique to Tapped Out or, I assume, to me. There were plenty of otherwise fantastic games (usually free and on mobile devices) that stopped being fun but which kept me desperately wanting them to be fun. Even now, I’m rather obsessed with another not-so-different title, Fate/Grand Order. Thankfully, I was able to get past a similar moment with that game and actually maintain a balance where I was only playing F/GO when it was fun for me. But if I can manage that now, why not go back to The Simpsons: Tapped Out? Return to my first freemium love as a more mature woman, capable of avoiding that crushing exhaustion?

The truth is, I tried, a couple of times over the past few years even. But the list of unlockable characters that I’d missed, that were no longer accessible, was too great. “Too much content” is hardly the best criticism, but still I was overwhelmed. I didn’t have anything that I hadn’t earlier. Here I was, an early player trying to return, unable to get myself back into the experience I’d loved before. In some ways, it felt like Tapped Out had left me behind. I had changed. It had changed.

simpsons tapped out screenshot 3

Looking back on the game now, it’s easy to try and explain away my fascination and frustration. Tapped Out, like most other free-to-play titles on mobile devices, is designed to keep the player playing, always having some timer going for them to return to and be rewarded for sticking with the game day after day. Login bonuses for playing each day consecutively. The wait times are long and annoying if you’re ever busy, just long enough that it’s quite tempting to throw down some premium currency just to speed things along. Framed like that, it can be simple to decry the game, nay, the whole genre as a scammy mess. But that ignores the sense of accomplishment one gets when they finally unlock their favourite character or the satisfaction at seeing a sprawling town famed for its lazy citizens working all at once to produce a way-too-high amount of money.

So, if I still love the game, after all these years, why not return? The game is good, even now, 10 years later. I’ve had days upon days invested in Tapped Out. Weeks of work that I could get back to if I would only log in and reclaim my account. A fun circus-themed event that seems to be halfway finished, according to the mobile game’s wiki site. There’s so much to do that anyone who remotely enjoys city-building or The Simpsons would get a kick out of the game.

simpsons tapped out screenshot 5

The answer, much as I might try to deny it, is simple. I’m still burnt out. Still tapped out on Tapped Out. Overall, my feelings are complicated and contradictory, but I know that going back would leave me with nothing but a scrambling effort to catch up and try to reclaim some of that elusive enjoyment that I’d lost before. What I’m trying to say is: Freemium can be exhausting and, if one is not careful with their relationship to their games, the fun to be had can be lost forever.

Why am I no longer playing The Simpsons: Tapped Out?

Because I can’t.

Erin McAllister

Erin McAllister

Staff Writer

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Allie - 05:02pm, 23rd May 2022

This article seems confused in its message. You keep saying the game is good but you also say the game is designed in such a way that it burns you out and stops being fun. If the structure of the game inevitably leads to burnout, is it really "good"? Just my two cents.

Erinsfrustrated - 06:24pm, 23rd May 2022 Author

You're right. The article, like my own feelings about the game, is a bit contradictory. I'd also say that you're equally right in that it's rather bad for a game's design and structure to lead to burnout. But, at the same time, I've found that games are rarely ever wholly good or wholly bad. Tapped Out had a lot of elements that really worked for me and left me wanting to engage with it. Even if I had to step away from it and criticize the burnout, I would feel dishonest if I didn't point out the parts that I had originally found praiseworthy.

If I were going to give the game a review, I would probably find that the exhaustion factor was large enough of a downside that I wouldn't be able to give it any sort of positive score, but that also wouldn't mean that the good bits would themselves turn bad. I do say that the game is good a few times in the article, but on reflection, I suppose I wouldn't want to say that the game is "good" or "bad." Just exhausting. 

(Also, apologies for responding to your comment with multiple paragraphs!)