Getting R$ and gold coins without having to pay
It's out and you already know it. Firemonkey's realistic driving simulator Real Racing 3 won't be sold as a premium product. You can read the reasons on my previous post about EA's direction monetising mobile games. Once you get over it, there's only one way forward: play the game, understand how it works and see how you can squeeze the best out of it without using any in-app-purchase with real money.
Let's begin with the two currencies used. These should be familiar as they follow the same system used in popular free-to-play games like Pocket Planes, Clash of Clans and Temple Run. The virtual currency is called 'R$' (Real Racing Dollars?). This is earned simply by playing the game. Participating in competitions, wining trophies and defeating Game Center friends will get you R$s for free. Unlike other racing games, you don't need to pay to enter a race and you can retry events as much as you want. In other words, you can grind for R$.
The second currency type is called 'gold', which is represented by golden coin with a helmet. This is far more scarce, as you can only earn them by reaching certain milestones. In practical terms, you will earn gold coins levelling up. Up to the level 17 I have reached, you are awarded three gold coins for every level upgrade. So here's the thing: to level up you driver you need to get some good results at the races. You can retry levels as much as you want; in other words, you can grind for gold.
Understanding the currency cycle
Now that you know how to obtain these precious resources just by grinding, what are they used for? The R$ you have racked up have to be used regularly to maintain your vehicle. Every time you compete your car loses some of its stats, represented by the typical repairs the mechanic carries out. You are allowed to race with a broken car; you don't necessarily need to fix it straightaway, but your performance will decrease.
And here is where Real Racing 3 puts a wall in front of you and asks you to spend your money and your time to continue playing. It's not a clear pay-to-win, but more of a repair-to-do-better.
Repairing and servicing
The game will force you to repair and service your vehicle after every race or set of races. Again, you can go out with a sub-par car, but performance will suffer, not reaching the its top stats.
Repairs involve fixing parts of the car that have suffered due to your aggressive driving. If you crash into a car in front of you, you'll probably have to repair the headlights and the front bumper. Basically, repairs can be avoided it you stay away from other cars and try not to go off road.
Servicing affects the wear of of the car after a longer period of time. After a couple of races you will need an oil change, swap tyres, check suspension, engine and brakes. Eventually you will have to go through these, which limits the amount of grinding — as in retry events — you can do.
Both repairs and servicing have a monetary and time cost. Repairs are cheaper and shorter while servicing can take up to 600 R$ and 30 minutes of wait. Typically, your car can undergo a full repair cycle in under three minutes, while a full service can take up to three hours. Of course, Real Racing 3 gives you the option to speed up these using gold coins.
For me the terms used are a bit odd, as in real life what are considered repairs usually take longer than servicing. I can leave the car at the mechanic for an oil change and pick it up before lunch, but a broken windshield or a hanging bumper will likely get the car to stay there overnight or a couple of days.
Managing your garage to manage timers
To avoid the wait repairing you don't necessarily spend the precious gold coins. Some planning in advance allows you to jump this paywall of timers using your R$ properly. Managing your garage is the bread and butter of Real Racing 3. The idea is that you can wait for repairs to be completed while you use second vehicle.
The game comes with a set of 20-ish series available to play at the time of the beta. This is, of course, a teaser, as you can only access two championships with the initial amount of R$ you receive when you start playing. Why? Because each series is limited to a set of four car models maximum. This prevents you from racing against a McLaren F1 with your Ford Fiesta. You need to own a Pagani or a Zonda to compete in this kind or race.
When you start the game without spending any real money, the two cars available to you are a Nissan Silvia and Ford Focus. You shouldn't be tempted to buy any other car for now, using the one you have — and waiting — to level up your driver skills and earn some R$. Fortunately, the process isn't very tedious and you can afford a new car after one hour and a half of playing.
Choose the car you need and nothing else
Since every championship, appropriately called series, is limited to a maximum of four car models, you should only consider buying a new car that unlocks a new series. If you have bought a Nissan Silvia or a Ford Focus you are wasting your money with a Dodge Challenger R/T or a BMW Series M Coupe. These models are used on the 'Pure Stock Challenge' series you have already unlocked.
Following this logic, the next decision is to get the most affordable car that unlocks a new series. I went for the BMW Z4 M Coupe, which unlocks 'Street-Spec Skirmish' and 'Prime Production Match-up'. A Nissan 350Z (Z33) will have similar effects.
For some suspicious reason the game will push you really hard to purchase cars you don't really need. Along with notifications saying your engine can be upgraded, Real Racing 3 will showcase cars and run flash sales or models at a 20% discount. If you already know the model you are saving R$ for it's easy to see the game is discouraging you to unlock new series. A good idea might be to take a screenshot to the main screen of championships available and the cars required. These flash sales are a buy now or never again deal, giving you no chance to consult what this car unlocks on the main menu. Take a screenshot and quickly jump to the Camera Roll to see if the proposition is good enough.
All this might sound weird but is actually very enjoyable. The game was designed with this progression curve and it's very rewarding to compete wit two different cars, earning more R$ and actually racing than waiting for things to be completed.
It's a game of endurance
The fact that you have a second car freshly repaired at your disposal allows you to go truly nuts with your driving. You have spent the first hours trying to avoid collisions to minimise repair times and now you have to change your strategy.
There several types of events that will require a different approach. A longer cup competition with 20 participants and three laps to complete will likely leave your car ruined. In contrast, you should start with the shorter events when your car is at its top stats potential to be able to win drag races, fastest laps, high speed tests and one-to-one one lap races.
Once your car is in bad condition, it's not a bad idea to go for the longer cups. You probably won't end in the podium, but it gets you used to the track and it pays very good R$ to complete it in the top ten. This is also how traditional video games used to be played: trial and error.