Monetization Horrors

Monetization in progress… Oh the horrible ideas that come from being able to sell stuff via in-app purchases…

Wacom Bamboo Paper: A notebook to draw in. Nice! But if you want more than one notebook you have to pay. This feels so wrong… You’re not paying for new functionality, you’re paying for more of the same and it feels just plain wrong. It’s a bit as if Adobe started charging for colored pixels : “Your blue digital-ink is low, buy 1000 milipixels for $10″… but speaking of Adobe:
Adobe Ideas. It really is a nice and clean app. $5.99, huh, well, okay… Peanuts compared to the huge pile of money I threw at them for the Creative Suite, right? So what have we got here? Pencil, eraser, colors, buy layers… BUY layers?! What the hell! What did I pay $5.99 for? Now I need to pay another $0.99 to use layers? Screw this!

OffMaps 2: The first OffMaps cost $4 and would let you download map-data from the OpenStreetMap project to navigate while offline (on vacation, etc.). You would just select any area, choose how many zoom-levels you wanted to download and go: download! Easy to use, worked well. But then the greed set in and they built OffMaps 2 where you pay $0.99 to find out that the app comes with 2 download tokens that let you download data for only 2 cities and then you need to pay for more tokens. Oh baby, now I’m being properly monetized! I picture suitcase-carrying yuppies triumphantly shaking hands behind a mirrored glass wall while the test-subject eyes the buy button…

I could list many more examples…I’m not saying all this it doesn’t work, I’m just saying it doesn’t feel right. If you care more about short-term income and less about if your customers feel cheated or mocked, go ahead. But your customers will remember. Or maybe you’re lucky in this 5-min-attention-span market and they won’t. I’m just noting that if your expectations are built up and then you hit pay-wall after pay-wall before you can get to the expected experience, it’s not a good feeling. And no, no one reads the description text before getting a free or cheap app, they look at the screenshots – *bam*, expectations created – download – disappointment.

So when do in-app-purchases feel right?
A few criteria:
  • The app has to deliver a satisfying experience by itself. An app that is obviously crippled without purchasable add-ons is no satisfying experience.
  • Don’t shove in-app purchases in my face from the get-go. Let me breathe and experience the app. If I want more, I’ll check if there’s more.
  • Don’t charge for something that is obviously just a simple change in code (like more notebooks). Yes, it could work, it could even sell very well, but I’ll feel like you’re mocking me and I’m not going to buy it out of spite.
  • Be clear about what’s included and make it very clear from the get go that there is additional content that can be purchased.
  • Don’t tell me you have Downloadable Content (DLC) planned from the start. It’s like saying that you’re planning to charge me over and over and over again to get the full experience. (Assassins Creed 2 had a few chapters in the story arc reserved for DLC – WTF?! I paid EUR 60,- for this and then there’s holes in it?) Rather say something like this: “If a lot of people are interested, we’ll think about developing more content in the form of expansion packs. Those will be available at low cost and if it sells well, we might even give some away for free!” – This feels nice, doesn’t it?
  • Naming the additional content “expansions” or “expansion packs” also feels nice, it sounds like good stuff, it sounds like the old days. “DLC – Downloadable Content” on the other hand is sounding more and more like corporate talk. When I hear DLC I think of corporate manager-types with dollar-signs in their eyes who use the word “monetizing” in every second sentence…
This is not a guide on how to become rich with in-app purchases, these are my very subjective feelings when encountering them in the wild.
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    CrazyEoin on October 11, 2011 at 13:29 | Permalink

    I cant believe that you have to buy layers, that's just madness! A good article and thoughts on what is becoming a worrying trend, a nerfed version of the software that required unlocking to be useful. Also I agree about the "Expansion Pack", it really does feel like you are getting something cool and valuable :-)

    Thomas Grové on October 11, 2011 at 15:01 | Permalink

    What if the app is free and then charges for layers?

    CrazyEoin on October 11, 2011 at 15:46 | Permalink

    I'd say layers is too basic a function to leave out to be honest, like getting a car and finding that you have to pay extra for the key to the fuel cap. The car works fine without the fuel cap key but ultimately the car is basically useless in that form. In app purchases are valid but for extra things, like a level pack, or more of the experience. The productivity of tool is killed without the layers option so they may as well charge for the app in the first place.

    col000r on October 11, 2011 at 15:47 | Permalink

    That would feel slightly better, or at least more justified, I think. But ONLY if you make it very clear to the potential user (best put it in one of the screenshots, as no one reads the text…)

    col000r on October 11, 2011 at 15:50 | Permalink

    but yeah, as CrazyEoin said… If you're charging anyway, why cripple it? people buy it and get angry that they can't use it properly without paying again. that sucks.

    Luke on February 1, 2012 at 17:43 | Permalink

    Mine doesn’t exactly fit with the utility apps you chose but via in app purchases my friends daughter bought 250.00 dollars of smurf berries on her iPhone! He girl is 5 yrs old. How about an app that blocks in app purchases? Or at least prompts you to re enter your handle and password etc….

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