15 of the Best Freemium iPad Games

Recent times have seen an explosion in the number of iOS games released which fall into the ’freemium’ category. This type of game is free to play, but will often tempt you to purchase extra, ‘luxury’ currency from within the app. You can spend this luxury currency to obtain better or rare items, advance through levels with quicker progress or just make the game a whole lot easier.

Typical freemium gameplay consists of performing ‘farming’ actions, these are actions where the player must return to the game a set time later to receive their reward. Generally, this reward will consist of experience points to increase the players level and/or some form of currency. Examples of such actions include; collecting rent, tending to animals, or even the literal farming of crops such as in the widely popular ‘FarmVille’. Completing these actions will allow the player to level up, unlocking new content and keeping the player interested in the game.

Read on to discover 15 of the best freemium games for the iPad…


The popularity and success of these freemium apps can be seen simply by looking at the ’Top Grossing’ charts within the App Store. It is not unlikely to see a free app ranked in the top 10, but how is this possible? The answer; these addictive games are very good at tempting people to buy their in-app currency, be that gems, coins or gold.

But is this a bad thing?

Not really. These games are typically quite a lot of fun to play and very addictive, offering a genuinely satisfying gaming experience. Here’s a round up of the best freemium titles currently available for download on the iPad.

Nearly all of the games listed here are universal apps, meaning if you have an iPhone or iPod touch you can take the game with you anywhere! Just follow the developers instructions on how to sync accounts between devices.

Tiny Tower for iPad

Tiny Tower

Tiny Tower

Tiny Tower lets you manage your own skyscraper in the heart of a bustling city. It’s your job to determine what gets built where. You’re also in charge of hiring and firing and in-between all this, you’re the elevator operator.

You must build a combination of shops and apartments to populate your tower with ‘bitizens’, and provide them with jobs. You are also responsible for ensuring those shops are stocked!

Tiny Tower is a fun time-management game, with retro, 8-bit graphics. As with all freemium games, there is an option to make in-app purchases of the luxury currency. In Tiny Tower, you can buy ‘Tower Bux’. Although Tower Bux will rapidly increase your skyscraper’s development, you can accumulate Tower Bux for free within the game faster than any other title listed here.

Tiny Tower is a relaxing game which doesn’t require too much attention, however with plenty of Game Center achievements to unlock you’ll find yourself constantly coming back for more 8-bit action.

Price: Free
Developer: NimbleBit

Space City for iPad

Space City

Space City

Space City is one of the first apps to offer your standard farming freemium title in three dimensions. This title boasts great visuals and intuitive camera controls which let you zoom right into you city and view it from every angle.

The gameplay is fairly typical, you build tourist attractions in your city and intergalactic space tourists will visit. You can then collect bonuses from these attractions to earn money and experience.

The app doesn’t have a great deal of dependence on in-app purchases, however, I didn’t find the game addictive enough to make me want to come back and make any in-app purchases anyway.

Space City is a visually impressive title, with a few good ideas implemented but it needs a bit more time to develop and flourish. Definitely an app worth watching however.

Price: Free
Developer: Glu Games Inc.

Rock The Vegas for iPad

Rock The Vegas

Rock the Vegas

Rock the Vegas allows you to build your own city in the heart of a lively tourist destination boasting a great nightlife. The visuals are reminiscent of Sim City 4, but when night comes around you will see your city burst to life; your buildings flooding the city with lights.

The gameplay is great, offering the ability to upgrade your buildings, but remember to keep an eye on your city’s electricity requirements. Build hotels, bars and casinos to earn yourself a steady income and compete with the rest of the world via well implemented in-game leaderboards.

A lot of Rock the Vegas’ buildings require the use of currency bought via in-app purchase, however there are a few chances to earn the currency without paying, such as bonuses for completing achievements or by gambling ‘chips’ which accumulate over time.

Rock the Vegas offers great visuals with some interesting gameplay mechanics. There are some noticeably poor translations by the developers into English but they aren’t enough to deter from this well implemented game.

Price: Free
Developer: Game Insight

Tap Zoo for iPad

Tap Zoo for iPad

Tap Zoo

Tap Zoo is a very popular iOS freemium title, often observed in the ‘Top Grossing’ section of the App store. In the game, you place different animal types around you island zoo and wait to accumulate an income from these animals.

The first thing I noticed when playing this on the iPad was how grainy the graphics were. Although not enough to deter you from playing, it’s definitely noticeable. The tutorial is well executed and the game itself is very simple to play, but what concerned me was the high dependency on in-app purchases of game currency.

After completing the tutorial I found it very difficult to get much further without making an in-app purchase. The prices of new animals, decorations, and shops are extortionate compared to the initial income you make.

Nothing really hooked me in with Tap Zoo, but the ease of the game, cute graphics and big bold buttons would make this a great game for kids. But if you give this game to children be sure to turn off in-app purchases!

Price: Free
Developer: Pocket Gems

To disable in-app purchases in all applications, navigate to: Settings > General > Restictions > Allowed Content and slide in-app purchases to ’Off’. To prevent changes to this, you may also want to add a passcode restriction.

Tiny Zoo for iPad

Tiny Zoo

Tiny Zoo

Tiny Zoo, another freemium zoo title, is very similar to Tap Zoo in terms of gameplay ideas. However, the visuals of Tiny Zoo are much more sharp. In Tiny Zoo, your zoo feels much more realistic – you can build shops and stalls and there are plenty of decorations to place, making Tiny Zoo a more immersive title than Tap Zoo.

The pace of Tiny Zoo is much faster, you move through the levels fairly quickly which is key to hooking in new players. With a lesser emphasis on in-app purchases Tiny Zoo makes for a much more addictive title.

Whilst it seems a lot of Tiny Zoo’s ideas are formed from Tap Zoo, there are a few innovations such as grouping animals into ’collections’ which the player has to complete to earn bonuses and unlock achievements.

Tiny Zoo boasts an intricate interface, interesting game ideas and rich visuals, making it suited for kids and adults alike.

Price: Free
Developer: TinyCo

Zombie Farm for iPad

Zombie Farm for iPad

Zombie Farm

Zombie Farm stays true to the original freemium mechanisms inspired by Zynga’s Farmville, but Zombie Farm is well optimised for the iPad. Don’t be put off by the long initial startup time, as this app is very well implemented.

The tutorial introduces you to the basics fairly well, and new tutorials pop up as you go. Simply put, Zombie Farm is a freemium farming game; grow everything from carrots to radishes. The surprise is, as you may have guessed, you can also grow zombies!

Grow zombies alongside your carrots and build an army capable of taking down neighbouring farmers in an attempt to earn a reward of brains!

Zombie Farm is a good paced, well thought out freemium title and it boasts a number of interesting gameplay ideas. For example, growing zombies next to plants to induce mutated zombies such as the feared carrot zombie! The graphics, are cute despite the theme, making this another title suitable for all.

Price: Free
Developer: The Playforge

Tap Pet Hotel for iPad

Tap Pet Hotel

Tap Pet Hotel

In Tap Pet Hotel you have to build hotel rooms for different kinds of animals, from pandas to puppies, as well as providing them with facilities such as wash rooms and recreation rooms.

Made by the developers of Tap Zoo, Tap Pet Hotel shows how the developers have learnt from their previous title and advanced. Pet hotel is another cute app, with a large, finger friendly, interface that is really easy to play.

Whilst there is still a strong emphasis on using the purchasable in-app currency, it’s not as blatant as Tap Zoo. The pace is still fairly slow too, you do crawl through the levels. However there are achievements and goals which keep you on track as you progress through the levels.

Overall, Tap Pet Hotel is an improvement over Tap Zoo. Again, this one might be more suited for your kids, but remember to deactivate those in-app purchases!

Price: Free
Developer: Pocket Gems

Haypi kingdom for iPad

Haypi Kingdom

Haypi Kingdom

In Haypi Kingdom, the purpose of the game is to collect resources, build a kingdom, and battle other players with the armies you train.

The graphics are quite impressive in places, namely the home screen, and there is a good tutorial coupled with in-depth support found within the app.

What sets Haypi Kingdom apart from other freemium titles is the number of features which have been built in to the game. Form alliances with other players, perform research, equip items, improve your player stats and much more!

Haypi Kingdom doesn’t rely too heavily on in-app purchases, however, as this game pits players against one another, the use of in-app purchases can cause some players to become comparatively quite strong. Overall though, Haypi Kingdom is very in-depth and quite rewarding with good social integration. It’s definitely aimed towards a more hardcore selection of gamers.

Price: Free
Developer: Haypi Co.

Tiny Chef™ for iPad

Tiny Chef™

Tiny Chef™

Tiny Chef allows you to create your own restaurant which with the right attention will become the place to be. Choose what to cook and watch the restaurant fill with guests as your waiters serve them their meals. This was the first freemium app which I actually found interesting just to watch.

Although the graphics were slightly grainy, the fast paced gameplay definitely made up for this. Combining the fast pace with the decent level progression and opportunity to master recipes, Tiny Chef makes quite an addictive title.

There is quite a high temptation in Tiny Chef to make in-app purchases of ‘gems’. You can use these to speed up cooking or purchase decorations for your restaurant. However, they are not necessary and you can progress well in the game without them.

Tiny Chef makes for one of the more addictive titles in this roundup, it’s certainly fast paced enough to keep you interested. There is a lot of versatility in the recipes as well – you can make recipes which don’t complete for many hours or complete in a matter of minutes, making Tiny Chef a good all rounder.

Price: Free
Developer: TinyCo

Restaurant Story™ for iPad

Restaurant Story™

Restaurant Story™

It is quite common to observe an overlap in genres within the freemium category, so how does Restaurant Story compare to Tiny Chef?

The visuals are a lot sharper in Restaurant Story and on the whole, the game feels more responsive. However, whilst cooking and serving recipes in Tiny Chef takes only a couple of taps, cooking in Restaurant Story is very tap intensive, which can get a bit tedious after a while.

Dependency on in-app purchases is fairly low and not as tempting as some of the other titles in this roundup, in addition the overall pace of the game is a bit slower so the game doesn’t require as much attention. Otherwise Restaurant Story and Tiny Chef are quite similar, both offering interesting gameplay mechanisms such as recipe masteries.

Restaurant Story requires less attention than Tiny Chef, which, depending on your preferred gaming style, can be either a good or bad thing. There are actually many ‘Story™’ titles available, each with a slightly different theme, some of which you may find yourself more inclined to play than others.

Price: Free
Developer: Team Lava

Bakery Story™ for iPad

Bakery Story™

Bakery Story™

Bakery Story is almost exactly the same as Restaurant Story with one major difference. Instead of cooking main courses, you serve desserts and coffees.

For some reason I did begin to prefer Bakery Story over Restaurant Story. The visuals of the desserts are actually quite impressive and they look very tasty indeed!

In the cooking Story™ titles, you have to tap to add each ingredient to your recipe as you cook, and sometimes you also need to tap again to add a garnish. The moment I stopped playing Bakery Story was when I had to garnish my cookies with ‘love’.

After garnishing my cookies with love, I had a look at the decor of my bakery. It was at this moment I noticed the pink walls and realised that Bakery Story’s target audience is definitely female. However, a great game which preserves all the good features of Restaurant Story without imposing, too heavily, a reliance on in-app purchases.

Price: Free
Developer: Team Lava

Trade Nations™ for iPad

Trade Nations™

Trade Nations™

Trade Nations offers a unique visual style which is less cute than some of the titles in this roundup, but retains the cartoon aspect. In a similar manner to Haypi Kingdom, Trade Nations is about collecting resources, however the emphasis is on building a trade village and not on war.

Building houses and other buildings in your town allows villagers to collect primary resources such as wood. As you level up, you can build new buildings such as mills, which process the primary materials into more valuable secondary materials.

The aim is to sell your goods on the market for as much as possible. Trade Nations has a market where prices fluctuate day-by-day to meet actual player supply and demand. If plenty of wood is being sold, the price to buy is cheap, but then it is worth holding on to your own stock until you can fetch a better price.

Trade Nations offers a more mature style of gameplay which moves away from the cute visuals and is a little more challenging to succeed in. It is quite tempting to make in-app purchases with Trade Nations as the bonuses offered are worthwhile but, if played correctly, it is possible to do well just by playing the market.

Price: Free
Developer: Z2Live

Smurfs'  Village for iPad

Smurfs' Village

Smurfs’ Village

Smurfs’ Village is probably the best known iOS freemium game and is responsible for a lot of the controversy raised over the large bills which can be generated from in-app purchases.

However, there is no denying that Smurfs’ Village is a beautiful, well polished, and addictive game which stays true to the Smurfs’ television series. It follows the traditional farming sim pattern, but there is also a wealth of other buildings and characters. Certain characters even offer their own mini games such as ‘Greedy Smurf’s Bakery game’ – all of which adds to the overall gameplay experience.

The app is heavily dependent on the in-app purchasing of ‘Smurfberries’, a currency which both eases the gameplay for the player and unlocks special, beneficial items. It is very easy to quickly use all your available Smurfberries and the temptation to buy more is definitely the highest out of all the listed games here.

Definitely an app worthy of your time though, Smurfs’ village is a fun and well paced, addictive gaming experience. This app is also quite appealing for young children due to its theme and of course, to prevent large bills, in-app purchasing should really be turned off!

Price: Free
Developer: Beeline Interactive

FarmVille by Zynga for iPad

FarmVille by Zynga

FarmVille for iOS

FarmVille should require no introduction, but for the unacquainted, FarmVille is the father of freemium games. Initially created for Facebook, FarmVille’s popularity rapidly expanded, engaging millions of budding virtual farmers. It was the simplest of ideas, plant your crops and return when they are ready to harvest to earn money and experience.

Unfortunately, the FarmVille available for Facebook today has been subject to feature-bloat. Returning players will become lost in the vast amount of new, added content. This is a major problem for FarmVille for iOS.

FarmVille for iOS allows you to access your Facebook farm, a major mistake. Players who have put a few hours into their Facebook farm will notice almost painful loading times on their iPad, they will also notice many missing features as well as intermittent syncing issues between iPad and Facebook.

Overall a very poor implementation of the game from Zynga. This game is just not suited for iOS. Even if you start a new game, you may experience better loading times but there is still a large dependence on in-app purchases of ‘Farm Cash’. At best, this app is an ’emergency tool’ for farmers on the go who need to harvest crops before they succumb to wilting.

Price: Free
Developer: Zynga

CityVille Hometown for iPad

CityVille Hometown

CityVille Hometown

CityVille Hometown is not a way to access CityVille on Facebook. It is a completely independent game exclusively created for iOS. Zynga have learnt from the failings of FarmVille for iOS and created something which is very well optimised for the iPad.

In this game you build a city; building houses to increase your population, building businesses to earn money, and growing crops to supply your businesses with the ‘goods’ they need to run. Over time, you can expand the borders of your city and build new and interesting buildings.

Typically, Zynga games are heavily dependent on making in-app purchases. This is not true for CityVille Hometown, which is great news. Also, CityVille Hometown is not dependent on having dozens of friends who also play the game to progress. Combine these factors with the perfect pace of player development and you have an admirable, iOS optimised game, suitable for the casual and hardcore gamer alike.

Zynga definitely excelled with this app. A very satisfying and rewarding game, which is adaptable for all play styles. What Zynga realised with CityVille Hometown is that people interact with games on Facebook and games on mobile devices in entirely different ways and CityVille Hometown truly excels in captivating the iOS audience.

Price: Free
Developer: Zynga

Conclusion

Freemium games are, without a doubt, addictive and fun. They can also be major time and money sinks. Although it is possible to make excellent progress in most of these games without making any in-app purchases, it is very tempting. Considering that the initial cost of the game is nearly always zero, an extra $0.99 here or there is worth paying for the work that the developer has gone through to create the game, right?

It is easy to find yourself (or your kids!) making multiple in-app purchases, especially with the ease at which it is possible to do so. If you find this happening to you, switch in-app purchasing off for a while and just enjoy the game.

From this selection, CityVille Hometown would definitely be my first choice to play as it excels in nearly every area, but all these games are great and definitely worth a download. Also it’s worth noting that all these games are under constant development, so if you haven’t played one in a while, it might be worth checking back to see if anything new has been added.

Your Opinions

So what is your favourite freemium title? What is your opinion on these types of ‘pay for premium content’ games? Is there a freemium game you feel deserves to be on this list?

Also, a lot of people put hours of time into these games, so if you aren’t embarrassed to say, what is the highest level you’ve ever reached in one of these games? And for the very brave… What is the most you have ever spent on in-app purchases for this type of game?