HWM (Singapore) - - THINK - BY AARON YIP

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.

The Good

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.

The Bad

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

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.



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