‘Game Of War’: A California Man Spent $1 Million On Mobile App, Describes It As Worse Than Gambling

A California man spent $1 million playing Game of War, a mobile app that is simultaneously one of the highest-grossing games in the lucrative mobile gaming market and is also known for its insidious methods of separating its players from their money.

As Ars Technica reports, Kevin Lee Co was in federal court in Sacramento last week to answer charges of embezzling from his employer, identified by WTAE-TV (Pittsburgh) as Holt, a heavy equipment manufacturer. Co pleaded guilty to pilfering $5 million from his company between 2006 and 2015. Co pleaded guilty to skimming the money and blowing it on San Francisco 49ers tickets, Sacramento Kings games, expensive cars, and plastic surgery.

Most damning of all of Co’s admissions, however, was that he spent a cool million dollars – roughly a fifth of the money he stole – on the mobile app Game of War.

Game of War, for those not familiar, is one of countless war and empire-building, turn-based mobile apps that you can go download right now from your device’s app store. Game of War stands out from the crowd, however, for the fact that it’s basically a license to print money for its developer, Machine Zone. By some estimates, the game earns as much as $1 million per day, allowing its advertising budget to produce commercials like this, featuring supermodel Kate Upton.

Game of War, like hundreds of thousands of other mobile games, makes its money through those dreaded “In-App Purchases,” those little upgrades and whatnot that players spend real money on, and the bane of mobile gamers’ existence. Players who spend money on In-App Purchases gain advantages over other players and without them, gameplay can be dull, repetitive, slowed, or non-existent.

Game of War takes those In-App Purchases to a whole new level, however. Gamer Jason Crogham, writing in Cracked, explained how Game of War’s In-App Purchases cost him $9,000 of real money – and he admits that he probably got off light.

“After a few months, the wait times to accomplish anything are so great that if you don’t spend money to keep up with the [other players who spend real money], you’ll be overwhelmed. We’re not talking five bucks anymore — many players will have dropped a couple hundred at this point.”

Further, you can lose much or all of the progress you’ve made in the game, including upgrades for which you’ve paid real money. So you keep spending more.

“[In Game of War], you’re spending money on troops and other expendables that can be lost in combat. I was casually browsing the map at work recently and came across a guy who must have spent at least 7,000 Euros. He wasn’t around to defend himself, so we attacked. We wiped out about 2,500 Euros. Two-and-a-half grand, gone in five minutes.”

If you’re starting to think that “In-App Purchases” are starting to sound like one of those quasi-legal scams that everyone just sort of accepts, like multi-level marketing or nutrition shakes, you’d be right. In April 2013, according to The Verge, the government of the United Kingdom took an interest in In-App Purchases and how they fleece gamers – in particular, children who don’t realize they’re spending real money – out of cash. The country’s Office of Fair Trade (OFT) didn’t land on the side of banning In-App Purchases – that would, in essence, end the mobile gaming industry, at least in the UK, with the stroke of a pen. But the agency did promise “enforcement action if necessary,” whatever that means.

Back in California, Mr. Co, the man who embezzled millions from his company and spent a million of it on Game of War, faces 20 years in prison.

[Featured Image by FOTOKITA/Shutterstock]