In-app Purchases: Truly as evil as claimed?

The European Commission announced plans on Thursday to investigate the so-called ‘freemium’ model that most apps are taking these days.

Many games and apps in the app-stores for mobile devices are labelled as ‘free’ – you can download and install them at no cost-the money is made in selling purchasable virtual commodities in the app such as extra lives, levels, or cosmetic improvements for the character.

Many people are dissatisfied with this pricing model. There are ‘horror stories’ online about people racking up thousands of pounds in credit card bills for intangible items.

I have a slightly different, and perhaps unpopular view on in app purchases.

App developers need to turn a profit. This is the cornerstone of business. You can’t develop software if you can’t meet the costs associated with it- even as a hobby. The vast majority of apps need to generate a profit.

In previous years, the trend was to sell the app as-is for a fixed price. It is easy to understand- you know exactly what you’re paying to get your complete product.

Recently however ‘freemium’ apps have had a huge surge in popularity. The software is provided to the consumer for free, and bonus purchases are offered to generate revenue.

Some companies take a very calculated and draconian strategy when it comes to pushing in-app purchases. Their games are designed to be addictive enough to keep the player coming back for more before a pay-wall is introduced to take advantage of their addiction.

Give the player limited lives and lock them out of your addictive game for up to 24 hours and suddenly 50p for an extra life becomes an easy impulse buy. Some games go so far as to prevent further progress without advertising the game for the company via social media tie-ins or paying to advance.

I don’t agree with this model, but it’s undeniably successful. Much more palatable to many users is the idea of in-app purchases being a bonus rather than mandatory- games that are fully completable without a single penny spent. Instead, the purchases give a boon to the player for difficult areas, purely cosmetic changes to the game, access to bonus levels etc.

The Unpopular Truth

However, I have little sympathy for users who cry foul for the ‘huge credit card bills’ that they have generated from in-app purchases. Especially when it comes to children. In order to make an in-app purchase, a credit card has to be registered to the user ID, and a password entered to confirm the purchase. If parents tie their credit card to a device and give their children unrestrained access to it, I’m afraid I disagree that the fault somehw lies with the developer of the app. Similarly, if a grown adult spends more than is sensible for virtual items, I still don’t see how the developer is to blame. On all devices I have seen, in-app purchases can be entirely disabled. So if there is any possibility of overspending, you can prevent from the start.

It’s true that the in-app purchase model has its flaws- certainly some companies treat their consumers more like prey than customers, but in the world of business money talks and in-app purchases will stay while consumers are willing to pay. It is, unfortunately, as is usually the case that some businesses are giving the whole model a bad reputation by being overly aggressive with the system in pursuit of larger profit margins.


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Last Chance to Flap

Flappy Bird, the mobile game that became an overnight success will soon disappear from the app stores.

The app’s creator has tweeted users warning that he will be removing it today:

So if you want to see what the fuss is all about, download it soon!

It’s not entirely known why he has decided to do this, he has stated it is not for legal reasons. Perhaps, like Phil Fish, he simply doesn’t like the negative attention and impact on his life that having a successful app can bring.

Still, he says he will continue to make games, so I wish him the best of luck!

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The Copyright Saga

King, owners of the immensely popular Candy Crush Saga issued a statement defending their action to file opposition against Stoic studio’s attempt to trademark ‘The Banner Saga‘ – the title for their game. This comes after the news that King have been granted trademark for the word Candy- and have their eyes set upon Saga too.

It is somewhat ironic perhaps that the dictionary definition of saga- ‘a long story of heroic achievement, especially a medieval prose narrative in Old Norse or Old Icelandic’ applies more directly to a game about a Vikings than one about swishing candies around and aggressive in-app purchases.

King’s response to the issue has given mixed messages. In their following statement, they assert that they do not have concerns that Banner Saga is trying to ride the coat-tails of the similarly named Candy Crush Saga:

King has not and is not trying to stop Banner Saga from using its name. We do not have any concerns that Banner Saga is trying build on our brand or our content. However, like any prudent company, we need to take all appropriate steps to protect our IP, both now and in the future. In this case, that means preserving our ability to enforce our rights in cases where other developers may try to use the Saga mark in a way which infringes our IP rights and causes player confusion. If we had not opposed Banner Saga’s trade mark application, it would be much easier for real copy cats to argue that their use of “Saga” was legitimate. This is an important issue for King because we already have a series of games where “Saga” is key to the brand which our players associate with a King game; Candy Crush Saga, Bubble Witch Saga, Pet Rescue Saga, Farm Heroes Saga and so on. All of these titles have already faced substantive trademark and copyright issues with clones.”

However, this seems to be in direct conflict with their Notice of Opposition. The whole thing is a bit of a mess to say the least. For full details, check out the rock, paper, shotgun article which covers the issue in much more depth than I.

Copyright and trademarks are treacherous waters to navigate. When companies can trademark colours, simple words and everything in between, it can be a minefield for smaller Indie devs, to not tread on the wrong toes, so to speak, is tricky indeed.

Lamentable as the situation is, often money talks and big businesses can afford the legal wrangling necessary to go after and attain their goals. The law, is, after all, the law.

In response, a new Indie Game Jam has been set up to promote the issue and show their support. The Candy Jam will run until Feb 3rd.

Oh what tangled webs we weave.

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Play station Now: The Second Coming of Cloud Gaming?

Sony has announced it’s plans for Playstation Now – a cloud gaming service that will allow users to stream games.

The concept behind cloud computing is simple- rather than require the end user to own and maintain high-end hardware, all the processing is done on a server farm and the result is streamed back to the user. This means that the user’s device need not be powerful at all- you could, as Sony intends, get Playstation 3 quality visuals on a basic tablet!

Cloud gaming is not a new concept – OnLive has existed for many years, but the technology has been hampered by average user’s internet speeds – obviously, you need a fast connection! Nobody wants their games to feel like this:

With streaming services becoming more widespread, and the average speed of a home users connection rising, we could be seeing the second coming of cloud gaming.

With Sony backing their own service, I’ll be interested to see how well the technology works. Cloud computing, in its true sense (rather than simple cloud storage ) has always seemed like a good idea but has so far met limited success in reality.

If we can, in the near future, play games like The Last of Us on our smartphones or tablets, that opens up a whole new avenue for gamers.

Sony also intends to use the service to enable PS4 users to play PS3 games on their system, a feature currently unavailable.

it seems the world is taking note- GameStops stock value fell by over 8% following the announcement.

Testing of the service is due to begin at the end of this month, with plans to launch the service by mid 2014.

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Happy New Year!

Well, here we are folks! 2013 is officially history and we’re into 2014!

Just one more year until we have self-drying clothes, auto-lacing shoes and hoverboards!

Here’s to an auspicious new year, may good things happen for us all!


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Steam Winter Sale 2013

Yup, it’s that time again folks – more PC games available at ridiculous prices.

From the 19th December through ’till the 3rd January, Steam will be offering their own brand of festivities through daily deals and flash sales – changing every 8 hours.

Want to get a few digital gifts for gamer friends, or just treat yourself to that game you’ve been wanting but the holiday season has left your wallet aching? Nows your chance!

Merry Christmas!

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Xbox One Prank Can Brick Your £500 Console

A prank infographic that originated from the infamous /b/ section of 4chan can permanently ruin your brand new Xbox One.

The prank, which originates from the random section of 4chan, famed for it’s rogue users and often explicit content, gives instructions to users that claim to enable backwards compatibility on the system, a feature that many users want but is not available on the next-gen console. However, following the instructions will ‘brick’ your console – rendering it inoperable.

Major Nelson, Director of Programming for the Microsoft gaming network Xbox Live, issued a tweet warning users to avoid trying to modify the console:

Here is the infographic which, obviously, you should not attempt:

Prank instructions- do not attempt!

The Xbox One has faced severe criticism since its announcement and followed a rocky path to release. This is another bump on the road for the software giant and it’s new flagship console.

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