Oliver, pester power and in-app purchases

One time or in-app purchases, either can be fine, but a combination of both?
One time or in-app purchases, either can be fine, but a combination of both?

Imagine if you will, a scene akin to something from the movie Oliver.

A young lad approaches his Dad.  Hands cupping a mobile phone in front of him.  His eyes are wide and pleading.  He speaks, but rather than “Please sir can I have some more” in an Oliveresque type scene, it’s

“Please Dad can I have some more gems for my game”

Every word spoken perfectly, a polite tone, not too much volume and a pause for another attack on his Dad’s conscience with his wide, pleading eyes….

I take the phone from my son, in an almost ceremonial way, we’ve performed this routine so many times in the past, similar to how the Olympic torch is passed at an event to the official managing it.  I, with my debit cards stored in the phone am the one who can make my lad either happy or sad in the few seconds its takes to decide to make the purchase.

I look at the price and frown.  I’m pretending to consider the purchase when in reality there is no choice.  My son knows this, but its an accepted part of proceedings that he pretends to wait upon the decision I’m making, a decision he knows has already gone his way. It’s around $16/£10 and in a few button presses I’m a little lighter financially and my son has scuttled off with the phone to spend in not many more seconds the purchase I’ve just made.

Does that make me a soft parent for giving into my son who has quickly learned how to tug at my heart strings in order to get what he wants?

He doesn’t try this trick with my wife and she is the enforcer of rules when it comes to how long he can play on these games before he has to do something else.

"Please sir, can I have some more gems for Candy Crunch?"
“Please sir, can I have some more gems for Candy Crunch?”

This though, is not pester power.  Pester power is a perpetually looped exchange of “Dad can I have more gems” and me responding “no not today”.

I am a victim of a new technique, a technique which I’m sure is passed around by children at school as the latest agreed method to get what they want out of their parents.  If the Government has documents on the currently agreed methods of teaching, children have their own documents about psychologically attacking their parents.

This probably makes me weak willed, but with a sophisticated attack like this, I have no chance.

It makes me wonder how much money is made by the developers this way.  How many Dad’s around the country are falling victim to the same technique? Who knows, but one thing is for sure in-app purchases have certainly been accepted by the younger generation and by the time they reach my age, I think it will be fully entrenched in society, with physical media being regarded as unnecessary and a waste of space.

We can be sure that when my lad reaches my age, internet speeds will be off the scale compared to that of today and local/cloud storage will be so huge that today will seem an unthinkable way to live.

I’m not against in-app purchases

With being involved in technology, I’m not one to resist change: transition from the BBS to the internet, running software off audiotape to cloud storage no issues at all.  Even in-app purchases I’ve no problem, except for a worrying trend I’m beginning to notice.  I move with the times and whilst I’m not against in-app purchases, there is a huge caveat to that.

If we look at FIFA 14 for a minute (and this is not the only title like this) I paid, I believe $67/£40 for the PS3 version.  Very good game too, until you start playing one of the game modes which has additional purchases you can make.

You often hear developers say that the game is quite playable without making additional purchases and the only drawback will be that it will take you longer to reach your goals.  I would dispute that in the case of FIFA 14.  For the early stages of this game mode, the game plays fine, with a low difficulty setting you can have a good game, however as you progress, the game becomes exponentially more difficult to the point where in the previous game you won the match 2-0 and in this one you are losing 6-0.  Computer players pass the ball with ease whilst yours merely thrash about, fall over or get red cards, the opponents goal becomes an impossible target surrounded by a seemingly impenetrable force field that would make Captain Kirk jealous.

Now some may say I just happen to be hopeless with FIFA 14 and there may be an element of truth there, but in my opinion, the jump in difficulty is just too quick and too steep to be just my lack of skill and if I put a suspicious head on for a moment, I’d say that I’ve hit the point where the developers want me to make further purchases.

In-app purchases are fine when they are added to a “free” (or as they are becoming known freemium) title because when/if the game becomes unplayable, you have the choice to continue or move onto something else.  When you’ve spent around £40 on the title originally, things are not so simple.

I think we need to be voicing our concerns now about these methods.  In-app purchases or an upfront cost.  I don’t think it should be both and we need to be sending out a clear message to developers who do this.

I will not be buying the World Cup version of FIFA because I feel I’m being taken for a fool with FIFA 14.  I hope FIFA 15 will be addressing these issues (I’ve read others with similar complaints) and moving on from FIFA/EA, I hope other developers take note that this is not acceptable.

Regardless of campaigns and websites fighting against in-app/virtual purchases, they are here, they are staying and we are too far “down the line” to go back to old methods.  Remember when mp3’s were first hitting the market? Look at the nay-sayers then.  Now ask yourself, if someone is playing a music track, is it more likely to be streamed/mp3 etc or on a CD?

We are also now branching more into the cloud (as home users) and again, physical media is going and “virtual storage” is coming in.  It’s unavoidable, and the few who hang on to local storage will find these items harder and more expensive to get hold of as time progresses.  Forget privacy and security of data for a minute, that’s another topic, the wind has changed direction and there is nothing people can do about, mainly because the mainstream buying public do not care.  The market is controlled by the majority and its that buying majority that has (rightly or wrongly) complete apathy to the medium in which their goods services are supplied.

The purpose of this article though is more to highlight that whilst in-app purchases, cloud computing and SAAS are in their early days (relatively) we need to legislate or agree a set of terms for which the developers to operate under.  There’s no reason why Google for example could not step in here and enforce rules on the developers in its market-place to abide by, if government are unwilling or unable to do so.

To end on a lighter note, I think in respect of certain developers, this Spinal Tap track is spot on.



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