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

March 21, 2012

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

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?