Why we should say no to in-app purchases and downloadable content

by: SamMarch 21, 2012
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Lately, more and more pieces of Android software are being released with in-app purchases available to the user. I personally think this is a terrible strategy for developers to be using, and I’d like to explain why.

The developers of software on the Play Store (and indeed the iPhone’s App Store!) are just using low tactics to make us purchase things from them when we wouldn’t otherwise give it a second thought. Take the relatively new game ‘Sims Freeplay’ which is available from EA games for both phones and tablets. It is an officially licensed version of the game, is very well made, and gorgeous to look at. Your incentive to download it is that it’s free, or at least that is how it seems. This version of the Sims works quite differently to the classical PC versions, and uses real-world time in the game, and this carriers over to the time required to complete tasks. So if I instruct a Sim to eat something from the fridge, that takes five minutes to complete…

You can use ‘Lifestyle points’ to instantly complete actions that would normally take hours, and this is where EA Games reaches for your wallet. These lifestyle points cost real-world money and can be bought as an in-app purchase in varying sizes. Unbelievably, they have the nerve to charge the same price as a full game for a decent amount of these lifestyle points. They draw you in with the idea of a free game, then say that you can’t enjoy the game properly without buying their silly in-game currency.

Hardly Sporting

These are already on the disc that I bought, but I have to spend more money to use them? Doesn't seem right to me. The same sort of payment structure is becoming more prevalent in Android

Honestly, this seems like a dirty tactic to me. I know that the sales and advertising world is riddled with dirty tactics, but this niggles at me more than any other sales strategy I’ve ever heard of. The developers give you a free sample of a game and what you can expect to enjoy in it, then begin charging for further content. People who’s minds are soaked in desire for this content figure that they just have to lump it and buy the content, but they shouldn’t. The sales method is akin to that of a drug dealer’s. Give out free samples, wait for people to get hooked, and then charge for continuation or further installments.

What I want is for developers of games, applications, and tools to be upfront about their creations and how much money they want for them. It’s no good releasing something as ‘Free’ and then start asking for money once the application is running. If EA Games had been charging $5 for this silly game I would have paid it, and enjoyed the Sims with time acceleration and no silly Lifestyle Points. As it is, I don’t want to play the game. I refuse to pay for downloadable content or use in-app purchasing, so the game got boring very quickly because of the real-time simulation. In my opinion, the more developers use in-app purchases, the less successful they will be as people will just stop viewing their products, anticipating in-app purchases.

Why Must We Oppose It?

If people continue to use in-app purchasing or buy downloadable content, game developers are going to be inclined to use this sales strategy more and more. Eventually, every smartphone game would be a free ‘trial version’ in which you can purchase the full version, or additional content to make the application seem better.

Fans of console gaming will have noticed the Downloadable Content revolution taking off in the last year. A relevant example is the Xbox 360 game Gears Of War 3. If you don’t buy their downloadable content (either in individual releases, or a season pass) you don’t get to play with other people who are on the new maps. Content such as additional maps for the game sit uneasy with me, but the real crime is when you have to pay to unlock content which is already stored on the disc you purchased from the store in the first place! These include playable characters and weapon skins. If you buy a season pass (the cheaper option). You pay another $25 dollars. You do get 4 installments of downloadable content which is of high quality, and I do enjoy it when I have it. It’s just frustrating that I have effectively bought two games when you look at things financially.

Occasionally, DLC and In-App purchases Can be Used Well

What I am specifically opposed to is the requirement of money to unlock individual or additional features in the game. An example of when in-app-purchasing is acceptable is unlocking a trial game into a full version. Sometimes, DLC can show that developers are committed to a product and it’s continued development. The game I have used for this screenshot, Triple Town, makes it easy to buy the full game with unlimited moves if you like it. It isn’t mandatory though, and you can enjoy the game with limited moves if you’d like to. The price for the full game (unlike a lot of games and applications) is very reasonable. This is how things should be.

What are your thoughts on downloadable content?

  • iandouglas

    I don’t intend to change your mind on the subject, I just wanted to give you a little first-hand knowledge.

    I’ve worked in the gaming industry, and I can tell you that these micro-transactions or paying for “premium content” have really started encouraging game developers to add lots of cool stuff to games and in many ways have revitalized a stale industry.

    Gamedevs make peanuts on games that they feel they have to sell for $0.99 or give away for free in order to stay competitive. To get around the economics of users wanting free stuff, they HAD to come up with an alternate revenue model, otherwise their hot game title could be their LAST game title. Considering that it can take several months to make even a decent game, gamedevs need to come up with models that will help pay rent, buy food, etc. In some cases, pay salaries and benefits for employees.

    The “pay once to upgrade” model isn’t nearly as effective as you might think. If you’re lucky, you get a single-digit percentage of your users upgrading. But paying for premium content, or paying for shortcuts (powerups, etc) in the game by way of micro-transactions, is their new bread and butter (sometimes literally) and the number of users willing to pay small amounts for things is significantly higher.

    The company that I worked at introduced “premium content” for a few dollars and over the span of a few months, saw more revenue come in than all of the ads on the game’s web page. Then they tried a “pay what you want” model where users could name their own price, and that was INSANELY popular because now users got to give economic feedback on their own perceived value of game items, which in turn helped the company to adjust their suggested prices so users didn’t feel they were being gouged. Sure you get the odd person paying $0.05 for something that others might pay $0.50 or a buck, but most users appreciated the second model and paid the ‘suggested’ amount.

    Zynga really helped shape this “shortcut” micro-transaction model and while it was met with a lot of scrutiny in the first year they introduced it in FarmVille, they made something like $100M just on the micro-transactions, and the game was silly and cheesy and frankly pretty lame. I don’t even want to guess what they make now (although now that they’re public I’m sure their public accounting would be easy to scan for the details).

    • Medicci3737

      I agree 100% Google also needs to stop letting devs get away with false or misleading apps. I keep having problems with my phone because of somr of their apps. & get tired of troubleshooting tryn 2 find out which app/apps are causing the problems !

    • Sam Cater

      Thank you for a wonderful comment, I enjoyed reading that and it has given me a glimpse into the world of game development.

      I suppose I bust the trend in that case. I’d much rather pay a fixed price for a game (or a suggested flexible price like in the Humble Bundles) than have to pay with micro-transactions. Though that is just me, and many other people probably find micro-transactions simple, if not addicting, as your stats probably show.

      Again, thank you! If you’ve got anything to say on future posts, please do! Intelligent discussion and views is what we strive for at Android Authority.

    • Zynga and gameloft make less and less…

  • The problem is that when you charge a fixed price for a game, people crack it and 90% or more of your downloads become pirated copies. It’s hard enough to make a living if all the people using your service paid. Letting people try your app, then unlocking content in an app specific way drastically slows down cracking (though nothing is impossible). It also let’s users make an informed decision, not just viewing screen shots.

    There’s no free lunch, If you didn’t pay something for it then you likely are the product, with your info being marketed to advertisers.