A whole new can of worms: In-App Purchases from Free Apps

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First, before myself or anyone else discusses this here. Does anyone know if this is covered heavily under NDA right now? As of this morning, it looked like the info was only available to paying iPhone devs... [edit] looks like they're updating the site right now, but I don't know anything beyond the "we'll be back" sticky on the front page [/edit]
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I'm fairly certain it's not NDA'd. I didn't see any mentions of NDA in the materials I got about it, and it's popping up all over various news sites.

Personally, I'm extremely happy with this change. While there's certainly potential for abuse, I think the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Getting rid of lite versions is going to clear up a whole lot of app store clutter.
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ThemsAllTook Wrote:I'm fairly certain it's not NDA'd. I didn't see any mentions of NDA in the materials I got about it, and it's popping up all over various news sites.

Okay, then I say we should roll with that unless someone else pops up with anything saying otherwise. If it turns out to be NDA'd we can quarantine the thread.

Yes, I fully agree this is something that has been needed all along and the negatives are heavily outweighed by the positives. Here are a few thoughts I have on it:

- What if you have a pay-for app and want to turn it into free with upgrade options: how do you upgrade existing customers automatically to already have the in-app purchases? I've come up with a few hacky ideas, and seen some others at Apple's iPhone Dev forums but this doesn't look possible. This leads me to believe we'll be seeing thousands of new "version 2.0" apps soon....
- Which leads to the next thing: I bet the app approval process is going to grind to a halt again.
- Nobody will ever look at "pay-for" apps now.
- Lite versions will probably be rejected by Apple in the future.
- iPod Touch users might finally have a reason to *pay* for an upgrade to 3.x.
- Doesn't seem to make as much sense to develop new apps for anything less than iPhone OS 3.x for any new software now -- although the jury is still out on that one.
- Can we now gray out features/buttons that are disabled until upgrade? I assume so.
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AnotherJake Wrote:- What if you have a pay-for app and want to turn it into free with upgrade options: how do you upgrade existing customers automatically to already have the in-app purchases? I've come up with a few hacky ideas, and seen some others at Apple's iPhone Dev forums but this doesn't look possible. This leads me to believe we'll be seeing thousands of new "version 2.0" apps soon....

My plan is to keep the full version updated but just promote the "demo/upgrade" package. A bit messy, but I think this change to the App Store is great.
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ThemsAllTook Wrote:Getting rid of lite versions is going to clear up a whole lot of app store clutter.
Problem is that's not gonna happen unless Apple actually starts rejecting and pulling lite versions - and since according to Apple there are no "lite" apps, only fully functional free apps, I don't see how they can manage that without some serious policy changes.

There's another problem: Free+DLC and Full versions are apparently A-OK with Apple (see Rolando 2). So it's lites all over again. I can't see how splitting your sales up like that would be attractive to most devs though - it's hard enough to chart one paid app.

And speaking of charts... No one really knows how DLC is charted. It's not a traditional "paid" app and it's not "free" either. Everyone seems to agree DLC should count towards the Top Grossing charts but other than that opinions are mixed.

The more I think about this the less I want to bother with it. For my upcoming game at least I'm just gonna stick to the plan and release a regular paid version and maybe a "lite" version later on - unless Apple decides otherwise. My only fear is one of AnotherJake's points: If everyone else is doing Free+DLC, then who's gonna bother looking at my straight-up paid apps? Then again, if everyone else is in the "Free" chart the remaining paid apps have less competition.
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Still not totally sure how I feel about the change. I'm mostly waiting to see how games that use various strategies do in the store. This basically introduces the Free+DLC model as a valid choice, alongside the traditional Paid and Free models. To me, the big question is: now that we have three strategies to release games, is one of them a dominant or dominated strategy? In concept it seems the Free+DLC option completely dominates the Paid, but I want to see how players end up reacting to that in the store. Some other thoughts:

While one of the reasons for the change is to supposedly eliminate the need for Lite versions, in reality I can only see this turning Lite versions into shareware. And what's worse, having both a paid version, and a Free+DLC version will not only result in two apps to track, but they will cannibalize each other's sales, resulting in lower chart positions. I would imagine the way games are charted will also have to change as a result of this, especially if many games start adopting the Free+DLC model.

A plus however is that it makes the games much harder to pirate. Whether or not someone owns DLC is something devs can check in their code, as often as they like. While it does move a lot of the burden of copy protection to the devs, basic checking is very simple.

EDIT:

Quote:And speaking of charts... No one really knows how DLC is charted. It's not a traditional "paid" app and it's not "free" either. Everyone seems to agree DLC should count towards the Top Grossing charts but other than that opinions are mixed.

We're discovering that DLC already factors into how much an app grosses. We've made a quick post about it here: http://blog.freeverse.com/monkeyblog/arc...-revea.php

Justin Ficarrotta
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JustinFic Wrote:A plus however is that it makes the games much harder to pirate. Whether or not someone owns DLC is something devs can check in their code, as often as they like. While it does move a lot of the burden of copy protection to the devs, basic checking is very simple.
It will at least stop script-kiddies from releasing automated cracks, but I'm not sure it will help much beyond that. If Apple really thinks this'll help they should provide similar APIs to check the authenticity of regular paid apps - I'm not sure why this has to be tied to DLC...

JustinFic Wrote:We're discovering that DLC already factors into how much an app grosses.
Well at least that's one mystery solved! Seeing as Rolando 2 DLC edition is charted on the free charts we can also assume Free+DLC = Free as far as the charts go. Personally that feels sleazy to me. Apple seems to hate words like "demo" or "trial" but Free+DLC only fits into 2 categories IMHO: Trial or Subscription. Calling these free is a tad misleading.
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Frank C. Wrote:It will at least stop script-kiddies from releasing automated cracks, but I'm not sure it will help much beyond that. If Apple really thinks this'll help they should provide similar APIs to check the authenticity of regular paid apps - I'm not sure why this has to be tied to DLC...

I think it will prevent piracy of DLC in Free+DLC games for now, but once people DO figure it out, any anti-piracy efforts will have to be made by the devs themselves inside their apps, which I'm not looking forward to at all.

Frank C. Wrote:Well at least that's one mystery solved! Seeing as Rolando 2 DLC edition is charted on the free charts we can also assume Free+DLC = Free as far as the charts go. Personally that feels sleazy to me. Apple seems to hate words like "demo" or "trial" but Free+DLC only fits into 2 categories IMHO: Trial or Subscription. Calling these free is a tad misleading.

I'm also going to go out on a limb and say that this also allows Free apps to chart on the Top Grossing list. I think you still "buy" a free app, it just charges you zero dollars, so all apps free and paid are treated the same. I think that would be a sure sign that Free+DLC is viable: when a free app can chart just based off its DLC.

The change does kind of fly in the face of that whole "free apps remain free" stance Apple took in the past, and also encourages the use of shareware incentives (grayed out buttons, upselling, etc) which before would get your Lite app rejected (which has happened to us.) Rolando 2 is on the charts, but it's not incredibly high, and the reaction to the DLC so far seems to be mixed.

Justin Ficarrotta
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JustinFic Wrote:The change does kind of fly in the face of that whole "free apps remain free" stance Apple took in the past, and also encourages the use of shareware incentives (grayed out buttons, upselling, etc) which before would get your Lite app rejected (which has happened to us.) Rolando 2 is on the charts, but it's not incredibly high, and the reaction to the DLC so far seems to be mixed.

Yeah this is one of the main things I've been wondering about. Because now I could, presumably, put all of the levels in Slope Rider Lite, but have them "locked" until you buy them. Whereas the full version has all of them to begin with. This wouldn't have been allowed before, would it be now?

I just really wish Apple had put built in time-limited trials of apps from the beginning. And users who have only trialed an app can't review it. That would have been sweet!
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So I've been fiddling around with this in app purchase thing (IAP). I have a few new thoughts on it. These aren't complete, or even necessarily accurate, but here's what I think so far:

- One major crappy point to IAP so far is that there are no promo codes available for it as far as I can tell. I expect Apple will eventually remedy the situation, since it is a pretty major problem as far as I can see.
- IAP is pretty easy to implement, but a colossal pain to test. The documentation for testing sucks fat donkey balls and the sandbox system is poorly thought out. It makes ad hoc distribution (remember back in the day when everyone struggled to learn ad hoc?) look like a walk in the park by comparison.
- I think it might help make things just a tad more difficult for crackers, in that they won't be able to run a standard simple script on everything quite as easily, but there is certainly no major benefit to IAP against piracy by itself. IAP may benefit the less popular apps, if they make an effort to mix things up and obfuscate validation strings and checks. The binary is obviously still vulnerable to check bypasses.
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Frank C. Wrote:It will at least stop script-kiddies from releasing automated cracks, but I'm not sure it will help much beyond that. If Apple really thinks this'll help they should provide similar APIs to check the authenticity of regular paid apps - I'm not sure why this has to be tied to DLC...


Well at least that's one mystery solved! Seeing as Rolando 2 DLC edition is charted on the free charts we can also assume Free+DLC = Free as far as the charts go. Personally that feels sleazy to me. Apple seems to hate words like "demo" or "trial" but Free+DLC only fits into 2 categories IMHO: Trial or Subscription. Calling these free is a tad misleading.

Not necessarily so. It's already been done ad nauseum in the free-to-play MMO scene. You pay for a fully-functional game, and then have the option of enhancing your gameplay with bought-and-paid-for junk.

Many developers will ship a "lite" version and enable the rest of the product under the guise of an in-app-purchase. FWIW, I think it's a decent idea. Games like these are probably crap, and this contains that garbage to one app-store entry (not 10, which is most PlayMesh games).

An example of a "correctly" built in-app purchase game would be ngmoco's "Eliminate" online FPS. You can play Eliminate for free, but if you fork over some cash, you can buy power cells. What these power cells do is beyond me - I hate Eliminate because I, like most respectable PC gamers, cannot navigate without a keyboard and mouse to save my life. But the concept is there.

This could easily be applied to such things as tower defense games (pay for DLC for new towers, enemies, maps, etc.) racing games (new maps, spaceships, cars, what have you), etc. I think that it is entirely possible to offer 75% of your content up front for free. This will hook more potential customers. Those people who would have bought the full version will probably feel good about paying for some DLC, and perhaps by lowering the barriers to finding your product you can find more paying customers.

I really hope that Apple starts pulling duplicate apps from the store, even if it means tossing their 100,000 app marker. I think that having a smaller, less cluttered app store (one without duplicates) is more important than an artificial number boosted up by zounds of duplicate apps.

Disclaimer: I am not a businessman. I am just a ground-pounder coder where I work - other people focus on the marketing/business aspects.

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cmiller Wrote:An example of a "correctly" built in-app purchase game would be ngmoco's "Eliminate" online FPS. You can play Eliminate for free, but if you fork over some cash, you can buy power cells. What these power cells do is beyond me - I hate Eliminate because I, like most respectable PC gamers, cannot navigate without a keyboard and mouse to save my life. But the concept is there.
I'm glad you qualified "correctly" with curly quotes... Eliminate is just another pay-to-level-up MMO with a mediocre death match game hacked on. It seems to be paying off but that's not surprising seeing as even the traditional zero-gameplay social MMOs are popular on the iPhone - which makes me really, really, really, sad. Cry

Personally I think the Rolando DLC edition gets this "right" (in the righteous sense). It's similar to traditional shareware: Get some for free, pay for the rest (or pay for more). This worked well for DooM and Quake back in the day, but the problem is that you need content to make money. With MMO style scams you make buckets of money with zero new content.
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Frank C. Wrote:I'm glad you qualified "correctly" with curly quotes... Eliminate is just another pay-to-level-up MMO with a mediocre death match game hacked on. It seems to be paying off but that's not surprising seeing as even the traditional zero-gameplay social MMOs are popular on the iPhone - which makes me really, really, really, sad. Cry

I would prefer an "MMO" where there is some kind of gameplay involved, rather than some Playmesh-style game which feels like a series of clever extensions to a shared spreadsheet.

Frank C. Wrote:Personally I think the Rolando DLC edition gets this "right" (in the righteous sense). It's similar to traditional shareware: Get some for free, pay for the rest (or pay for more). This worked well for DooM and Quake back in the day, but the problem is that you need content to make money. With MMO style scams you make buckets of money with zero new content.

I haven't seen Rolando; I'll check it out. As for the no-content "MMO" games, thankfully people are generally smart enough to rate crap down.

As for the air-quotes on the MMO, as an EVE Online player I find some of these apps somewhat insulting in their assumption of the MMO title. This could just be the elitist PC gamer part of me frowning upon the casual-gaming market though.

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