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In App Purchases

Lots of people are angry about the way that In App Purchases (IAPs) are being used in iOS games. They make three key points:

1) Many iOS games are shitty and designed primarily to require the player to buy many IAPs

2) Apple promotes many of these shitty games on its App Store storefront

3) The above damage the potential of iOS as a platform for games.

I agree with all three. But some people have gone further, suggesting that IAPs should be removed entirely.

At this point I should declare an interest. I personally make apps that use IAPs – like this one. The company I work for makes digital magazines, many of which use IAPs – like this one. If IAPs were to disappear tomorrow, my own personal bank account would be affected. I’m not unbiased here. But while attempting to keep as objective a head as is possible, I’d suggest that IAPs are very useful things. They allow a couple of key behaviours on the App Store:

1) Apps that allow people to try out the content* or function before committing to pay, and

2) Apps that serve multiple units of content over time

The alternatives in case 1 are two apps (two sets of updates, two items clogging up the store, bleh) or Google’s “try for a limited time” idea, which is comprehensively crappy, as the amount of time reasonably required varies immensely. The alternative in case 2 is to release app after app after app after app, all for the same product – no fun for the maker or user.

And I’d like to suggest a third option. When you add an IAP to the Store, you’re offered several types:

  • Consumable
  • Non-Consumable
  • Subscription (various types here)

It’s the first type – Consumable – that gets abused by lousy games. It’s the one where you pay 99c for ten coins, three gems, an extra magical bunny**, or whatever. It’s of no use whatsoever in either of the cases above, as it cannot be retrieved later (‘restored’) should the user reinstall the app – it’s a one off charge. Banning these from the Game category would immediately curtail a huge amount of lousy behaviour.

Non-Consumables and Subscriptions, I’d argue, mostly work  fine – they enable a way to unlock function or content (case 1, above) and a way to sell multiple items into a single app (case 2). Non-Consumables are particularly suited for adding extra levels etc to an existing game. A subscription could possibly be abused by a game (subscribe on a weekly basis to get some kind of extra power X that multiplies your ability to collect coins / gems / magical bunnies), so perhaps there’s a case for removing these from the Games category too, but I’m not sure people are as ready with their tap-to-buy finger when it comes to an ongoing payment.

Or another alternative to banning or removing anything: why not amend the App Store Guidelines, and enforce that amendment? Apple doesn’t shy away from prohibiting other types of content and behaviour in apps that it sells – would it be unreasonable to use the same method to prohibit crappy consumable-type behaviour in games?

I’d suggest that either presents a more reasonable option than banning all IAPs once and for all. In the meantime, might I recommend the brilliant cartridge-shaped lump of mobile-gaming-wonderful that is A Link Between Worlds? It’s a one-off purchase, no IAPs required.

* Apologies for using the c-word here, but I’m trying to be as general as possible

** Is there a game that involves magical bunnies? I’d play that game.

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