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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2 Responses to In-app Purchases: Truly as evil as claimed?

  1. jdh5153 says:

    I don’t mind in-app purchases and have used them a few times in games such as The Sims Freeplay. In all honesty if you enjoy a game you’ve been playing for free an in-app purchase of a few bucks acts as sort of a tip for the developers, a way of saying thanks for the enjoyment.

    • Swiftpaw says:

      I agree, there’s nothing wrong with in-app purchases as long as they’re handled right. I don’t like it when a developer treats their player-base as cattle to be farmed. It can sour the experience when you feel you’re being coerced into purchasing. After all, games are meant to be fun!

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