THE GOOD, BAD & UGLY OF IN-APP PURCHASES
In-app purchases, or more commonly known as IAPs, have been drawing a lot of ire in the world of smartphones and tablets recently. We can all agree that improperly done, IAPs can ruin an app or game experience. With more “Freemium” apps and games making the headlines than ever before (Electronic Art’s Dungeon Keeper Mobile anyone?), let’s take a look at the good, bad and ugly truths of IAPs.
There are a number of good things about in-app purchases. For starters, you get to play such games for free – and there are good ones like Tiny Death Star, Pixel People, Plant vs. Zombies, etc.
A successful IAP model allows consumers to dictate how much a developer makes off of them without hampering their ability to use said app or game. If you think the developer deserves some contribution for their efforts, you can give them money and they will give you something to make your experience more worthwhile. In theory, everyone wins.
For instance, in Clash of Clans, you can pick up a few hundred gems for a few bucks and get an extra builder. It is by no means necessary, but can drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to upgrade your base, plus it doesn’t affect the enjoyment for others.
IAP implementation is a delicate balance though, and many developers are either unable to find that sweet spot or deliberately ignoring it. Here are some ways developers are doing it wrong.
Carpet bombing – Angry Birds GO
Angry Birds GO is well-done game that any casual gamer can enjoy but the experience is hindered by in-your-face premium features. After every race, gamers are asked if they want double coins forever; after a few races, your birds get tired and must rest, but you can pay real money to keep them going. Right next to the unlockable cars are the pay-only cars. Literally everywhere you go in the game, you will be hounded for money. In essence, the game carpet bombs you with IAP opportunities at every corner, and for many it ruins a genuinely enjoyable game underneath the nonsense.
Money begging – Dungeon Keeper Mobile
Unlike carpet bombing where the game constantly bombards you premium options of what you are missing by playing for free, this model slaps IAPs onto just about every single action you can take, effectively holding gameplay hostage unless you pay. Dungeon Keeper Mobile has been the latest target of criticism in this regard as the game becomes intensely difficult very early on; the only way to ease things is to spend. Since all IAPs deal with virtual
goods, consumers expect to at least receive a tangible reward or experience for spending money. In Dungeon Keeper Mobile’s instance, one can argue that you are prompted to spend money for no worthwhile returns at all.
The landscape for mobile apps and in-app purchases is very precarious right now. There are thousands of games and apps that do IAPs correctly but there are many more who are doing it very wrong – purposefully or not. Carpet bombing, forced payments, and lack of notification almost make such developers seem like con artists trying to steal a buck from their consumers. The worst part is the bad examples cast all IAPs in a negative light, leaving properly done IAPs open to criticism when they shouldn’t be.
The ugly truth is that IAPs are going nowhere. They offer a more stable and lucrative revenue stream than advertising ever has on any platform, and that includes PC and consoles (which have had IAPs available for years in the form of expansion packs and DLC).
Worse yet, even big developers are less bashful than ever when it comes to pandering for money. Even regular applications such as Timely can be highly offensive as they let you skirt the cost of the app if you spam your friends with invite codes. In short, it’s a giant mess.
Hanging in the Balance
There are many apps and games that have IAPs but still deliver amazing experiences. The mobile app market is no different from others in that it changes and adapts based on consumer purchasing trends. In short, if consumers refuse to download good apps because of IAPs, it’s going to make it all the more difficult for developers to find that balance that makes everyone happy. The balance must be struck, and it’s up to mature developers and consumers to lead the way in exemplifying what constitutes best practices – and put their money where their mouth is.