Why folks should stop moaning about in-app purchases

There was a time not that long ago when gaming on Android devices was in a truly sad state. Top developers wouldn’t touch the platform with a ten foot bargepole, and if anything, Android development was an afterthought. Today there are plenty of great Android games ranging from casual time wasters to high-end Tegra-driven experiences.

I was immensely excited when the popular game developer Madfinger announced the zombie survival shooter Dead Trigger, but the launch isn’t going how Madfinger might have preferred.

According to the developer, the rate of piracy has been so high that it simply didn’t make sense to charge less than a measly quid for the game. Dead Trigger is now free to play as a result. If you read some Android forums or check the reviews, you’ll see why people were even more apt than usual to pirate this title: In-app purchases. No one likes in-app purchases.

Like many games, Dead Trigger allows users to stump up a little money for better equipment immediately. The alternative is that you can play without making any more purchases, but it might be a little slower going. Many users were annoyed that Madfinger would charge a small amount for the game upfront in addition to the in-app purchases, causing a spike in piracy. This is a massive overreaction from the community.

When I played Dead Trigger, I didn’t find the in-app purchases to be problematic. They’re cheap and you aren’t required to pay anything just to play the game. I played for several hours, enjoying it thoroughly, and paid nothing extra until I felt like it. Dead Trigger didn’t railroad me into it, either. When I did spend a bit of dosh, I felt like it was more than worth it. For the grand total of a couple of pounds, I got a wonderful gaming experience for less than many other top-tier games.

Now that Madfinger has admitted defeat, it has to make you wonder why this happened. Why are users so unwilling to spend a quid or two on what is clearly an excellent game? Frankly, I think we’re complacent – we’ve all forgotten just how good we have it.

In the mid-nineties, the popularity of arcades started to flag as home game consoles got cheaper and faster. Somewhere along the line, we forgot how much money you could blow just playing a game. When you look at the way Dead Trigger responsibly manages in-app purchases, it’s an unparalleled good deal. You can buy all the gear you could want and play for many hours – longer than it would take to beat most other mobile games.

Mobile games are incredibly cheap, whether they rely on upfront pricing or in-app purchases. It’s unlikely you’ll spend more than a few pounds, and you get to run the game on a device that fits in your pocket. That’s almost unbelievable when you think of that hefty Gauntlet arcade cabinet which ate so many teenagers’ pocket money in the eighties. Why are we not in awe of the amazingly good value gaming has become? Instead, a great game is heavily pirated because people feel slighted.

There are some games that abuse in-app purchases, essentially forcing users into frequent payments just to keep playing. However, we cannot judge all developers based on this. If we can’t be mature and remember how lucky we are, the developers will move on. Android is very open, and we know that DRM will always fail. The only way we can assure developers that it’s safe to expend time and energy making games for us is to spend just a little of our hard earned cash on those games. It’s not like you have to drop a ten pence piece in your phone every time the jump button gets stuck.