Don't nickel'n'dime players with iPhone 3.0 in-app payments

There may be trouble ahead...

Don't nickel'n'dime players with iPhone 3.0 in-app payments
iPhone games developers are excited about the in-app payments feature of iPhone 3.0, and rightly so.

It allows the virtual item models that have been successful on other gaming platforms, could extend the lifespan of iPhone titles with extra levels and content, and perhaps most importantly it offers a possible solution to the problem of the race to 99-cent game pricing on the App Store.

But there's a problem: a lot of iPhone gamers are wary of in-app payments. Really wary.

It's something this journalist discovered after writing a feature on our sister site Pocket Gamer entitled Five ways micro-transactions will shake up iPhone gaming.

It was a decidedly positive look at what's possible with in-app payments, but the first comment read "this is only negative stuff for us gamers?".

However, it was when the piece got linked to on tech site Slashdot that the real criticism started. Here's some sample comments:

  • "Am I a bad, bad failure of a consumer, whose mere existence is dragging our economy down, or are the writers of TFA a bunch of koolaid-drinking frigtards who are cheerleading the advance of some of the worst aspects of traditional phone service into the realm of applications?"

  • "I hope Apple makes very sure that "micro-transactions" don't let developers try to keep slipping their fingers into my wallet quietly."

  • "I look at these things and see only scams: more ways to nickel-and-dime gamers to death"

Gamers - and, yes, Slashdot users are quite a hardcore audience - are genuinely feeling militant about the prospects of being charged through the nose for content that they feel should have been in the game they paid for.

Freeverse's Ian Lynch Smith addressed this in yesterday's interview on PocketGamer.biz, pointing out that for most developers, it's a.) about offering cool stuff, not scamming, and b.) about trying to make a decent return on their development investment, at a time when prices on the App Store are diving ever downwards.

On one level, the solution to player cynicism around in-app payments is simple: don't try to rip them off. Make great games, where any extra content that has to be paid for feels like a good deal, not a scam.

But, of course, some developers will abuse the feature, so what's important is for the good examples of games with in-app payments to come along quickly, before any negative perception takes hold.

Think back to what happened in Europe with subscriptions a few years ago, when people found themselves being stung after buying a ringtone or wallpaper. Very quickly, the perception that 'subscription = scam' spread, ensuring that kosher subscription models were squashed at birth.

Hopefully this won't happen with in-app payments on iPhone. But the parallel should be clear enough to (hopefully) ensure developers put a great deal of thought into what extra content they sell for their games - and, equally importantly, how they communicate it to their players.

Contributing Editor

Stuart is a freelance journalist and blogger who's been getting paid to write stuff since 1998. In that time, he's focused on topics ranging from Sega's Dreamcast console to robots. That's what you call versatility. (Or a short attention span.)