Best of British: There's nothing sinister about high value in-app purchases

Will Luton on letting players love your game

Best of British: There's nothing sinister about high value in-app purchases
Will Luton is the former creative director of Mobile Pie, and now a consultant in design, retention, marketing and monetisation for videogames.

In the past year there has be a lot of fretting and hand-wringing in our industry.

One persistent theme is the morality (or the lack of it) around upper-tier in-app purchases. Specifically one piece by noted ex-PocketGamer.biz editor Stuart Dredge got me vocal.

Dredge expressed surprise about the presence of a £69.99 IAP in the new Playmobil Pirates title from Gameloft. I pointed out to Stu that Toys R Us is charging £84.99 for the Playmobil Adventure Treasure Island set.

"What's the difference?" I asked. I see very little. Others clearly don't share my view.

But how is anything worth anything? What allows humans to attach monetary value to an object? When you walk in to Toys R Us and drop eighty-five notes, you aren't getting that value in raw plastic - it's probably not even five quid's worth.

However if your child or you care about Playmobil, you're getting £85 of joy, play, gratification or whatever it is that you get from owning and using the product.

The physical is simply not where the value is. It is in what the object represents or facilitates.

Spending habits

It was recently picked up that I spend over £100 per week on Magic: the Gathering cards. Yet I'm not getting anywhere near £100 worth of raw card stock. What then do I get for my money?

I spend on Magic because I love the game. I like the complexity and the strategy, the artwork, the collectability, the community and the competition.

Twice a week I meet with other players, compete, trade and talk about the game. I laugh, think, experience triumph, disappointment, frustration and friendship at different points, yet my overall feeling is net positive. I value my time and financial investment with the game.

However, even this is a reasonably conservative spend in Magic – there are many people who value their collection in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range. Some may even splash over £23,000 on a single card.

But this still is tame compared to comics or sports memorabilia. Even fancy restaurants.

Are these people being ripped off? That is not for us to judge. They simply see value in things that others don't.

As our world moves ever more to the digital, we that have only ever known the economies of the physical need to shift our perceptions of what value is – from the objects to the experience. This is where our money is being, and has always been, spent.

The discussion

Certainly there are debates to be had about virtual goods and IAPs, including the ease with which children may make them without parental consent.

Apple needs to take bigger steps to avoid the accidental purchase of IAPs and parents need educating. Developers too need to be clearer about what IAPs are and how they can be restricted.

However, price is a red herring. It is a personal value judgement made by an individual for themselves. The £69.99 IAP is no more sinister than the £85 box of plastic if the proper checks and precautions are in place.

Where paid is a one price for all system, IAPs allow different people to spend varying amounts of time and money based on the value they see in their experience. For many of us this is nothing, but for others it may be tens, hundreds or thousands of pounds.

So let's discuss protecting the vulnerable, but please don't tell me how to spend my money.
For more information on Will Luton's consultancy work, visit his website. For up-to-the-minute updates on his life, follow Will on Twitter.


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