I’m talking about technology, mobile applications in particular. You know, those things that you can download from iTunes, Google Play or the windows phone store?
An “In App” purchase is one where the user of the application is invited to spend money while they are using the application. The purchase is directly related to the task they are performing and is therefore much more relevant to the user than it would be before they began using the product. For example, I have a train timetable application that lets me see train times, delays, platform numbers etc. but it will also allow me to buy tickets from my phone: these tickets are “In App” purchases. It’s a perfect solution to buying tickets. In fact it is nothing new when you think about a traditional ecommerce website.
My rant here is about applications that try to trick you out of your money by tapping into well know psychological weaknessses.
In App purchases are a relatively new feature of mobile applications and seem to becoming more and more common but is this the best way to sell your product? Definitely it seems to be a real winner when it comes to profits but how do your audiences or customers feel about your product/company? To what level does the use of In App Purchasing affect a customers feelings of trust or loyalty? Is it really OK to take as much money as you can get regardless of how you get it? Are In App Purchases merely the epitome of Capitalism?
Producers of mobile applications are using this technique to generate revenue for their products as the classic method of paying for a product before using it is hard to sell. The games market is highly lucrative but also pretty cut throat as there are so many games to choose from. The answer seems to be to offer a game as a free download and get the user to pay as they play. In fact this is a much more lucrative model as, provided you have got your product right (i.e. it is actually engaging) you can make a lot more money than you could have made with a one off payment to download the game.
Of course you can see where this is leading can’t you? Once you have the player hooked into the game, you can fleece them repeatedly by denying them access to the feature they need in order to progress in the game that they have now invested so much time.
Candy crush is a notable example of such success with its daily revenue estimated at $633 000 per day. Not bad for a free game eh? ¹
It is so successful because it lets you play for a while (until you have got into the flow) and then asks you if you want to spend just a little bit of money in order to continue playing. In fact you don’t have to pay at all, you could just wait 20 minutes and then you can carry on for free. If you weren’t already hooked and in the middle of the game, you would most likely plump for waiting 20 minutes but obviously for many players, this is just too long to wait. In fact there is much more to it than that, there are many things to consider when encouraging folks to part with their cash, in fact here is a nice little piece that sums it up: 5 Tricks App-Makers Use To Boost In-App Purchases by Veronica Henry.²
But hey, we’re all adults here, if we want to spend our money on games and that brings us happiness then who’s the right to criticize? It’s all just a bit of fun isn’t it and if you can’t control yourself when you are playing a game then you shouldn’t blame the company who makes it should you?
Except we’re not…
My son is mad about Moshi Monsters ³ . It is free to play unless you want to be a member and since you can only do one mission as a non-member, it is likely that your child is going to want to be a member.
Then there are all the toys, the monthly magazines which add to their revenue. What’s more, it appeals to parents as it is a game that encourages your child to read and even do maths! As a parent I was happy to see my son being encouraged to read and I know that if he wasn’t into Moshi Monsters, he would be likely to be into something other fictional character that has a magazine and toys to collect! It’s not that I object to paying for the software, I most certainly am in favour of paying, after all it’s how I make my living! But there comes a point when it starts to sound just a tad … GREEDY.
But then there was the free App..
“Free DOWNLOAD on MOBILE & TABLET” it says in the Moshi Monsters Magazine. “Head to your app store to download the PAWsome Moshi Monsters Village!”. My son loved it.
Now here comes the rub. This application comes with, yes you’ve guessed it, In App Purchases. Whilst playing the game your monster can earn Moshi Money but it can’t earn rox and rox are what you need to buy great stuff for your moshi village. So how do you get rox? Well, you do get a couple each day you use the app but if you really want to get that super apartment block then you need to part with real money.
OK, I have to admit that the magazine does warn the child about In App Purchases and it does tell them that this can be turned off: “Remember, the game is free to download and play, but it also includes in-app purchases that cost real money. Ask an adult to help you if you want to turn off in-app purchases on your devices’ settings”.
I ask you, how many parents are happy to see their child spend £6 on some rox for their virtual monster? What sort of message does this give to a child about the value of money? How many parents read the moshi monsters magazine and the information about the in-app purchases? How many parents know how to turn them off?
Moshi Monsters markets itself as an educational game for children. I thought that it was teaching them to read, do maths and solve puzzles but it is now teaching them about greed and how successful they are at using psychology to squeeze more money out of those who are not so worldly wise – children.