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In-app purchases are evil

Column If I buy an app, I've bought an app
Fri Feb 14 2014, 17:45
chris merriman

THE YEAR IS 2003, and Sean Paul dominates the charts with his brand of reggae-tinged gibberish. Britain swelters in record temperatures of 100 degrees. And a young journalist with a full head of hair takes delivery of his first smartphone. The Orange SPV - better known to international readers as the HTC Canary.

It had a joystick! It ran something that looked a bit like Windows, and I was used to Windows so that was good! And for the first time, I had the opportunity to access hundreds of games and programs - the odious word "app" then still being a future madman's coinage - that, and I can't stress this enough, were free.

Skip forward seven years to 2010. Giant space babies had not warned us of an impending second sun. Glee gave us a reason to throw footwear at our telly screens, and a then slightly beleaguered journalist took delivery of his first Android phone, the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 better known to international readers as The Sony Ericsson Xperia X10.

I'd been nervous about switching to Android, as I'd been fiercely loyal to Windows Mobile for a long time. However, within moments I knew I was hooked. I was a bit shocked though, because the 'apps' had advertising. Oh well, I thought, those nice developers deserve to be able to buy themselves a beer.

It's now 2014 and all hell has broken loose. I have no problems paying for an app. That's fine, and it's a heck of a lot cheaper than buying a desktop program. But when I buy an app, I want to buy an app. I don't want to buy a licence to be given the opportunity to buy more parts of the app. In-app purchases are the work of the devil himself... well, more Satan's marketing department.

Now I won't lie, I love a bit of Candy Crush Saga. But why on earth would I pay 69p to get more lives when I've run out, rather than wait half an hour? I wouldn't and I don't. I need those 30 minutes to avoid alienating my partner, friends and co-workers rather than staring blankly at my phone all day. Earlier this year, a young chap ran up £1,000 in charges for such extras in The Simpsons Tapped Out.

That is a particularly pernicious game that allows you to progress only so far without buying doughnuts, the in-app currency. A single transaction can cost £75 and yet you can squander them by doing utterly pointless in-game tasks. Someone told me that to complete Tapped Out you would need to spend £60,000. I don't think it's genuinely that much somehow, but it's certainly going to run into thousands - and even more levels are added all the time.

Note the difference. No in-app purchases for Candy Crush Saga is a mild inconvenience, while no in-app purchases for The Simpsons Tapped Out makes it impossible to continue.

Those are the extremes of course, but the idea of buying "level packs" when you think you own a game frustrates me. Quite often an app will say its free until you're hooked, and only then it tells you that you have to pay. Fortunately, Google is now labeling all apps that offer in-app purchases as such in the Play store.

One of my favourite keep fit apps that I bought for the not trivial sum of £4.99 suddenly announced to me the other day that I had reached the end of Season One, and asked if I would like to buy Season Two for another fiver? No, I bloody wouldn't.

I'm not alone, fortunately, and this week saw the launch of honestandroidgames.com, a website dedicated to apps that are paid for, sure, but paid for just the once, either as an upfront fee or a single in-app purchase. There are also free games available at App of the Day, App Gratis and Appsales to proactively inform you when apps are on special offer.

For me, there's no excuse for taking millions of smartphone users for suckers. There are loads of great free games, and there are loads of pay-once games. I have always refused to make any in-app purchases and I will continue to do so. Don't let your bank balance slowly disappear out of ignorance. µ

 

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