Should Apple place restrictions on the price of in-app purchases? [Editorial]

The mobile gaming industry is booming, in fact, more people play games on iPhones, iPods and iPads than they do on bespoke portable consoles like the Nintendo DS series or the PSP/Vita. Titles like Angry Birds, Temple Run and Doodle Jump have thrived thanks to the move towards more casual gaming. For that reason alone, Apple’s introduction of the App Store in 2008 has proved its worth. I couldn’t live without it. One thing I could happily live without however, is in-app purchasing in games.

As an example, Temple Run is classed as a Freemium game. It’s free to download, but there are options to buy virtual coins within the game so that you can unlock powers and abilities. Now – in this instance – I’m not bothered. If you have the patience, you can eventually work your way up to that level by collecting coins on your runs. The coins don’t unlock content otherwise impossible to gain. But the trend these days is to release a game with in-app purchases that give you access to stuff you can’t get any other way. And frankly, it’s flipping annoying.

My biggest frustration is with The Simpsons: Tapped Out, Agent Dash and games with a similar model. The Simpsons is a simple SimCity/FarmVille style game where you have to build Springfield back up after a Nuclear Fallout. You gain extra XP for unlocking special groups of characters as you build new properties. It all sounds well and good until you realize that you can’t build some of the buildings without spending “Donuts” which you only get when you “Level Up”. It literally takes weeks (or even months) to save up enough donuts to buy the smallest of unique buildings or decorations.

As an example: the cheapest in-app purchase of virtual donuts is £1.49 ($1.99) for a dozen. What amazing feature or building can you buy with 12 donuts? A tree or park bench. Pretty much every special building that unlocks any characters is worth over 100 donuts. How much for 100 donuts? You can buy 132 for £6.99 ($9.99) Bear in mind still, these are virtual donuts that buy you virtual properties and characters. Can you imagine as a kid asking your parents for $10 to go out and buy some non-real donuts? In fact, if I told my 10-year old self that I’d like to spend $100 on purchasing a “Boatload of 2400 Donuts” I’d probably shoot my older self for being so stupid.

I only use The Simpsons game as an example. It’s not the only one. There are tons of them on the App Store now. They’re free, but, if you want to enjoy the entire game experience you have to cough up your own real money to buy fake diamonds/coins/donuts or whatever. It’s ridiculous. Just charge me £10 for the app, and give me everything. Give me an option to upgrade to the “PRO” or “HD” version and get everything. Anything, but asking me to cough up tons of real money for nothing.

The worst part is – I’ve heard stories of friends’ kids accidentally paying £70 for some diamonds within an app. Do developers need restricting with what they can offer as an in-app purchase? To me, paying more than $10 for anything within a mobile game is absolutely ludicrous. In fact, I don’t generally do it at all. Unless I think the developers has done a good job. With Temple Run I think I paid £2 for an in-app purchase just because I thought they deserved some cash for their week. I didn’t need the coins. I’m not bragging, but I spent enough time on Temple Run to work my way up to only needing to unlock one objective, and purchased all the power-ups available with virtual coins gained from running for miles. I didn’t need to buy them with real credit. (Okay, I’m totally bragging – I have a high score of over 5 million – without cheating.)

Now, I’m not saying in-app purchasing should be stopped. Just restricted with Games. I find it worrying that I can look down the list of most popular in app purchases for Agent Dash and see that the £70 purchase is more popular than the one that’s half the price. Which idiot is paying that much for a bag of fake diamonds? Seriously? I bet if I was to ask the buyer for the same amount in actual, physical cash in exchange for some virtual currency on an iPod game, I’d be laughed (or sworn) at. It’s dumb.

I’m not sure actually if my frustration is more with the idiots who spend that much on fake currency, or with the developers who take advantage and make it possible to. Either way, surely it’s getting out of hand? There aren’t many games on the App Store that don’t have some sort of virtual currency. It doesn’t seem to matter what the game is, in-app purchases will be crow-barred in somehow.

What are your thoughts? Does Apple need to rethink in-App purchasing restrictions or not? Let me know your thoughts below, or tweet me: @TiP_Cam

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  • 573W1E

    I don’t mind these in app purchases being in apps that are free (but they’re still annoying), but I have a problem with in app purchases in apps I have already paid for, whether it be 69p or £5… WeatherPro and Asphalt 7 spring to mind.

  • Gunnco68

    @TiP_Cam Absolutely! So sick of potentially fun games ruined cuz you can’t get better weapons and can’t advance cuz you get your ass kicked!

  • PedroCst

    Don’t forget to add GT Racing+

  • And yet… Had we all just purchased the games that were higher priced when the App Store was first released instead of forcing devs to race to the bottom “$1” or even “free” then perhaps we would have a thriving market where profits were maintained via up front sales. I hate to say it, but In App Purchases are caused not by bad developers, but by users who prefer those kinds of games – prefer btw, is just another word for “pay for”

  • stephenpperry

    @TodaysiPhone … Yes

  • One thing I could happily live without however, is in-app purchasing in games.