How Apple and Google can save us from "freemium" app hell

Recently there has been a lot of chatter, vocal outbursts and finger pointing about how the "freemium" in-app purchasing model either is or is not destroying the gaming industry.

I'm of the view that the flexibility afforded by the app store curators, in particular the popular and dominant mobile OS owners, has led to a down-write abuse of this once highly thought of monitization option.

"Developers should be rewarded for their endeavours"

Don't get me wrong, I get that developers should be rewarded for their endeavours, that they can’t just giveaway their IP, rely on ad impressions or sell mobile games for just 99c to make a living. But surely it has gone too far when even the big guns like EA are hooking customers with free games then psychologically torturing them into parting with hundreds of dollars for games that once cost less than 50 bucks to own out right. Real Racing 3 is one example where EA thought it was a good idea to force people into waiting for vehicle repairs and servicing or pay a premium to speed things up. Public outcry did lead EA to quietly tone down this ridiculous feature.

"Preying on vulnerable, impressionable, and often gullible users"

This freemium model, in my opinion has resulted in game developers effectively acting like irresponsible bookies and despicable drug dealers, showing a blind eye to addicts. Preying on vulnerable, impressionable, and often gullible users, to squeeze as such cash out of them as possible. Some may argue that these users are stupid and only have themselves to blame, but in this day-and-age are we still living in a world where everything is fair game and we are all free to actively pursue the weak and capitalise on their weaknesses? Maybe we do live in that world, but I’d like to think people should strive to be better, kind, and most importantly be fair and just.

So what's the solution to this in-app purchasing hell?

If the developers can't be reasonable, and all want to behave like Zynga (makers of Farmville) and King (developer of Candy Crush), shouldn't the store owners themselves take a stance and make efforts to protect the interest of their customers and the reputation of their own brands. I think they should and can.

"My proposed solution, isn't going to be a silver bullet"

My proposed solution, isn't going to be a silver bullet by any means, nor am I 100% convinced that it is legally watertight, nor am I suggesting it’ll have any effect but it is something surely the likes of Apple and Google should consider exploring.

So here it is

I'm calling it In-App Cap. It's got a ring to it, don't you think?

The In-App Cap

Here's how it works. All apps that want to offer in-app purchasing for add-ons, new game levels, extra powers/abilities, more lives, app currency, speed up of timely gameplay tasks etc, will need to offer an in-app purchasing cap price. This means users will only be charged for these in-app content until they reach the cap, once the cap is reached all future in-app purchases will be free of charge. In essence this would work very similar to how albums are offered in the iTunes store. You buy a few tracks, then decide to buy the whole album and get offered the cheaper album price to complete the album.

Before anyone shouts "price fixing", here's how to potentially avoid that can of worms. Apple, Google and whoever else that runs an app store, wouldn't be setting or even suggesting the in-app cap price. Instead they would just enforce that such a cap price is offered by the developer. The developer gets to set their cap price. And they could set it to $1 billion dollars, if they so wish, it's up to them.

"Calling them out as what they are, shameless leeches"

But here's the catch, the twist, the clincher that may just pursued developers to set the caps at a much more reasonable price. The app stores will display the in-app cap prices prominently, front and center, leaving greedy, unapologetic, moral less developers no place to hide. Calling them out as what they are, shameless leeches.

Now what about the other type of popular in-app purchase; subscriptions? Well here I for one don't think that app makers have been greedy or unfair. In fact app subscriptions on the whole offer significant savings compared to previous physical world models. So I would suggest no in-app capping is needed or even appropriate here. But "hey what's stopping game developers moving to in-app subs rather than features?" I hear you ask. Well nothing I suppose. But that's fine, at least this way customers get everything the game has to offer for x amount if dollars per week/month/year. Play for one subscription period and pay $x times one. Like the game and decide to play for 2 subscription periods pay $x times 2. I think most games are unlikely to down this route just yet. But it sure would be interesting to see how it might work out.

Anyway, that was my tuppence worth on the state of freemium in-app game purchasing hell and how I feel that it's the likes of Apple and Google who should consider it their duty to try and fix what is a largely abused, exploited and broken system.