Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Dark Side Of In-App Purchasing

Who knew Smurfberries were so mothersmurfin' expensive?
It hasn't taken long for the dark side of in-app purchasing to emerge. Of the top 10 highest grossing apps in the App Store, 6 of them are free to download... and make their money from in-app purchases. Capcom's The Smurfs' Village was the highest grossing app shortly after its release a month ago, even though it's a free download. The secret? In-app purchases. You can buy Smurfberries to help you play the game, and in fact you can buy a wheelbarrow full of them for $59.99 if you want to. Who would be crazy enough to do that? Perhaps a 4-year-old child who doesn't really understand the idea of money, and all it takes is two taps to buy things. In the AP story on the link I posted, one kid racked up over $66 in a short time, and another hit $140.

Wait, isn't there a password protection to prevent unauthorized iTunes purchases? Yes, but there's a loophole: If you tap on another purchase within 15 minutes after entering the password, you're not asked for the password again. So if you use your password, then hand your iPad or iPod to your child, they can merrily buy Smurfberries until your credit card freaks out.

Well, but that loophole should only occur in a very limited number of cases, right? Apparently the 15 minute time limit doesn't work all the time... some parents are reporting they hadn't used their password that day and the kids are still able to buy things without re-entering the password. Not good, Apple.

On the positive side, Apple has been very good about providing refunds. And you can lock out in-app purchases using the settings menu. But there's an issue with publishers providing games with seductive in-app purchases aimed at children too young to be deciding on purchases. Wait, here's Capcom's response: Capcom spokesman Michael Larson says "Smurfs" is no different from other games in this regard, and the bulk purchasing option is useful to adult "power players."

Adult power players? For a Smurfs game? What kind of bullsmurf are you trying to hand out? Here's a general marketing tip: Try to avoid obvious flights of fancy when talking to reporters.

Of course, it's not just Capcom that's doing this. Four of the six top-grossing apps are kid-oriented games. Mixing in-app purchases into games aimed at children seems like a recipe for problems. Sure, you might make some serious money for a while, until the angry hordes of parents descend on you with tar and feathers.

In-app purchases are a very powerful tool... and like all power tools it's very dangerous if mishandled. Marketers need to tread carefully in this area.

No comments:

Post a Comment