Are In-App Purchases Ruining Mobile Software?

Smartphone application icons

The in-app purchase (IAP) seemed like such an innocent concept when it was first introduced. Want a little more from your app? Make a small purchase, and it’s all yours. The resultant problem was that soon, developers were monetising the smallest aspects of their software, and worse, actually limiting basic functionality until regular payments started appearing in their bank accounts.

This isn’t a healthy approach to development, primarily because most developers have misunderstood why people want to pay for software. No one minds paying the fee to get in the door, but being charged additional fees is going to send customers running. Nothing stings like paying five dollars for an iPhone app only to learn that its full feature set is actually going to cost you double that, even if it’s a one-off payment.

Energy mechanics are what’s ruining many “free” apps, too – this is an energy bar that will let you use the app for a set amount of time or functions. After this limit is reached, you must either wait a while before using the app again, or get out your wallet in order to keep things going. It’s exploitative, and tends to make people reconsider downloading any free apps ever again.

There are ways to solve this – software can be free and supported by microtransactions without being unpleasant. For example – when offering people purchase options, think aesthetics. Allow people to buy new colours, backgrounds, fonts, or entire themes. Give them the option of changing icons and visual effects to suit their tastes. Not only can you then support the app financially, it also means that people can simply download the app for free, and if they want chocolate chip instead of vanilla, it’s only a small purchase away. But if they don’t want to spend, they’re never punished for it.

An additional problem with in-app purchasing is that it convinces developers they can charge for launch features, repeatedly, forever. If you want more money from people who’ve paid up already, the best thing you can possibly do is offer new content to spur people into getting out their cash again. This works best for games, admittedly, as you can release new levels, whereas a new feature for a word processing app seems like something that would be controversial to slap a price-tag on.

Even these seem harmless next to predatory IAPs, however, and sadly they do exist. Ridiculously expensive purchases that add almost nothing to your app experience whatsoever, and all to support developers who should’ve simply more for the app in the first place! Don’t indulge these developers, and avoid IAPs that cost more than most apps, or ones that don’t add anything worthwhile to your experience. Redecorating a virtual pet on your iPad shouldn’t cost more than redecorating your living room.

Lastly, don’t feel as though you have to fund any developers who do this. Vote with your wallet, and don’t fall into the trap of handing over lots of cash for very little reward. You’re the consumer, and thus it should always remain your market, not theirs. Speak out in your app reviews, too, and warn people that a game that seems very open is in fact closed off by many toll bridges leading to the app’s full feature set. Spread that approach around, and soon IAPs will only ever be beneficial.


About the Author

Reese Jones is a UK-based writer with a passion for tablets, twitter, art and design and gadgets and tech. She is also a keen sports fan and she also maintains a passion for alternative music.


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