The in-app purchases landscape is changing radically, thanks in no small part to the raucous rise in developers’ dissatisfaction at Apple and Google's 30% in-store 'app taxes'.
The share of earnings Apple and Google take from in-game transactions is - as mobile increasingly take the lead - just too much in many a game maker’s eye. The fallout has led to the years-long Epic vs Apple case and the rise of external web stores as a means of avoiding the charge.
While there is a degree of obfuscation involved - users have to head online away from the app in order to buy in game items via an account with items subequently appearing in game inventories - for dedicated, invested players the offers on board make it all worth the hassle. And, with Apple and Google cut out of the takings, developers can afford to be more generous to players.
Niantic is among the mobile developers to be using this alternative, having launched its Pokémon Go web store ahead of the pack in May 2023. Now, in what looks like an obvious move to familiarise Android players with its web store, Niantic is shifting the ability to redeem codes off-app and onto browsers.
The way of the web stores
Niantic often offers limited supply runs of Pokémon Go redeem codes, giving players a boost to their item stashes in the form of Poké Balls, potions and more. There are also sponsored items such as branded clothing on offer from time to time. And, up until now, Android players have redeemed these codes within Pokémon Go, having no need to leave the game beyond finding the codes themselves.
As of February 13, 2024, however, Niantic is removing this redeem code functionality entirely, requiring players to use the web store for codes instead. Apple users are already well adjusted to this - having never had an in-game code redemption feature - but the move for Android players certainly comes at an interesting time considering the wider industry context.
As it stands, Niantic incentivises players to spend on the web store instead of in-app by offering web-exclusive deals and bundles, giving players more bang for their buck and keeping those bucks from Apple and Google’s grasp. To connect these purchases with a player’s profile, fans can log in to the web store with the same credentials as their Pokémon Go account and then start shopping.
On the surface this seems like an easy win-win for developers and consumers, but for now there remains some uncertainty - from basic security concerns to the possible unwillingness of players to leave games and take extra steps to purchase.
Free codes, however, don’t require players to hand over their bank details and could serve to help acclimatise them with Niantic’s store - in what looks like part of a larger gameplan to move players away from in-app spending.
The current Android redeem code feature is located at the bottom of the in-app store page, so already players must scroll past all the available purchases. This means moving users to the web store for code redeems isn’t just about getting more eyes on purchasable content. Instead, it looks more likely that the move is to raise awareness of the web store and get players used to it, so if and when they do make a purchase, they’ll be more comfortable making it there instead of in-app.
"Starting on February 13, 2024, there will be a change to how Trainers using Android devices redeem offer codes in Pokémon Go. After this date, Android devices will be unable to redeem offer codes within the app - instead, all users can redeem their offers via the Pokémon GO Web Store," the Pokémon Go team clarified.
"Trainers with Pokémon Trainer Club (PTC) accounts can redeem offers by linking their Pokémon Go account to another login provider, which they can use to log in to the web store."
Times are changing
In this transition period for the industry, with a rising number of game developers encouraging players to their web stores, a precise lay of the land is still hard to determine. Will players adapt to leaving games for purchases, or will the inconvenience put them off despite alluring discount prices?
If one day the move to a web store becomes the only purchase method - a step further than Niantic’s strict move with code redeems - will players’ hands be forced, or will they protest by making no purchases at all?
Whatever the future holds in the web store landscape, Apple’s not making it easy for developers to escape its grasp, with a plan to charge 27% on their external platform payments.