Late last week MacLife ran an article that brought to light a whole lotta interesting insights and future plans from some of the top developers for iPhone apps, specifically regarding the upcoming OS 3.0 release. While a lot of these developers discussed a number of their plans relating to the new features peer-to-peer, wifi and Bluetooth multiplayer gaming, push notifications, etc., there were a number of standout quotes regarding the ability to utilize microtransactions, or rather, I should say, in-app purchases.
“I can’t talk about our upcoming titles in full yet, but we are very excited about the iPod access, micro transactions, push notifications and a huge slew of other things,” he said. “That, in combination with the new Facebook APIs (which, while not part of 3.0, feel like they almost are), are giving us some very exciting possibilities.”
Likewise, Brandon Barber, VP of Marketing with runaway success story Zynga says, “Obviously, we’re also excited about the micropayment platform. For games like Live Poker, the ability to make smaller purchases of chips and gifts will allow us to normalize pricing, and give gamers more options to play and customize their experience.”
Bolt Creative (Pocket God) president Dave Caselnuovo has this to say about the OS 3.0 update, “In-app purchases and push notification are definitely the most interesting of the new 3.0 features, but I think that the design of our app would have to change somewhat to take advantage of them. When we first started, we released a limited feature set, so our job was to justify the $0.99 price of our app. If we took the time to start big, then I would be more comfortable selling upgrades.”
Looking down the road to users’ reactions and how best to approach in-app sales, Simon Edis, head coder and president at ezone (Crazy Snowboard) comments, “In-app purchases and push notification are definitely the most interesting of the new 3.0 features, but I think that the design of our app would have to change somewhat to take advantage of them. When we first started, we released a limited feature set, so our job was to justify the $0.99 price of our app. If we took the time to start big, then I would be more comfortable selling upgrades.”
So it sounds to me that developers are a bit more than excited about being able to offer users additional content, gear, levels, etc., and naturally, being financially rewarded for these additional developments. And why not? Now, with that said, this flood of information and sneak peaks at what a lot of developers have brewing under the hood got me to thinking about microtransactions in general.
Last week I had to pleasure of having someone else sum up the microtransaction concept better than I could, one Mr. Beau Turkey. In this article he makes a strong, valid, and very logical case comparing music listeners that purchase CD’s vs. those that pick and choose titles via iTunes. At it’s core, iTunes is one of the biggest example of how microtransactions work, what they’ve done for an entire industry, and what potential they hold.
So the question begs to be asked; can the iPhone OS 3.0 update do for gaming what iTunes has done for the music industry? And in saying that, what I’m getting at here is introducing the concept in a plain and easy to understand format that doesn’t chafe the end user. For years and years the vocal core gamers have been screaming about microtransactions, the nickel-and-dime me to death, and pay-to-pwn concept, but something tells me all the while they were very happy not to have to buy the entire CD, and just picked and chose the songs they wanted to load up on their iPod, or generic mp3 player for that matter.
Does this mean that the entire world is purchasing their music via iTunes or Amazon? Of course not, there are still the CD buyers, and naturally the pirates. However, while iTunes hasn’t necessarily saved the music industry, they have made leaps and bounds in getting people off the Napsters of the world, and actually owning up and paying for the music they enjoy. When purchasing music via iTunes, the end user knows exactly what they’re getting, an officially licensed, full (and consistent) quality audio file with all the tags and cover art included. Not to mention in an easily searchable, organized collection that is easily transferred to a portable device. The point here is that through creating an easy to access, navigate, safe and secure point of purchase, iTunes has revolutionized the way we look at purchasing music.
By introducing microtransactions, or in-app purchases as the current buzzword dictates, is Apple setting the casual, and core to a point, gaming community up for the same revolution? Granted, not all developers are going to come in with the same standards of pricing, (perceived) usefulness, and bang for the buck, but they all still have to pass Apple’s stringent standards of quality and functionality. If in-app purchases deliver on their promises; providing new, exciting content with a bona fide entertainment value to the end the user, and the new OS provides a frictionless platform to do it, how long will it take before the gaming community at large starts to truly rethink these ‘microtransactions are bad…mmmmkay?’ preconceptions?