Seriously, I see games with over a dozen kinds of in-app purchases that total well over $100 (sometimes individually that high), and many listed purchases seem to be for repeatable things like gem bags. How much money can you possibly spend on a game!? It should be completely against the rules for heaps of purchases like these to even be an option. Basically, your app should have a hard limit on the number of items, a lifetime limit on dollars spent in total, and this theoretical maximum spend should be displayed in giant print next to the price when you download it. Furthermore, on every single app update, if any in-app purchases are changed, the new total dollar amount should be displayed in large text next to the updating button and such apps should not be possible to install via auto-update on a device.
Mobile developers really only have a few choices available to them:
1) Have users pay upfront or pay a subscription. This was how the app stores started and it quickly turned into a race to the bottom for free apps. The market had spoken.
2) keep users around long enough to show them enough ads.
3) keep users around long enough and add enough pain in the progression systems that the users decide to spend.
The problem is that the App Store model fails at the commodity stage.
The first stage for an application is that you invented it and no one else has it, so you make a lot of money from the monopoly for a while and recover your initial investment.
Then competitors show up. They're not as good, but they charge less money, so they capture most of the market. So instead of the high quality seller having a hundred million customers at $1, the low quality seller has a billion customers at $0 and the high quality seller is left with half a million customers at $1. And then they go out of business.
This is the worst stage for software, because proprietary-but-free software is terrible. The proprietors don't have the resources to make it great but the users don't have the ownership to improve it themselves, so it's low quality or abusive or both.
The problem is the App Store leaves everything at that stage, when the natural evolution after that point is for proprietary freeware to be replaced by open source alternatives. Because the App Store doesn't make it easy for the minority of users with the technical skill to make minor improvements to the apps they use to do that (and ultimately push the changes upstream), which over time is how GNU/Linux gets good enough to replace proprietary Unix and so on.
So once there is aggressive competition in a space, we end up with spam-laden free-as-in-beer spyware forever instead of making the transition to free-as-in-speech apps that don't abuse the users because if they did the users would just strip out the abusive parts.
However, I don’t think the people at the head of the revenue distribution for these games (the “whales”) are really in the throes of addiction. They’re actually spending completely normal amounts of money... for them. They’re just ungodly rich.
Ask anyone from one of these mobile-casual-F2P game companies who their “real” customers are—the ones they cater to with their designs. They have specific profiles. At the company I worked at, the whales were Saudi princes, wasting their oil money.
Personally, I see nothing wrong with US tech companies (slightly!) draining the pockets of such people, and in exchange fueling their Veblen-goods signalling competitions against their equally stupid-rich friends.
It’s like making money as an arms dealer, except nobody’s getting shot!
There were many articles covering this topic during the Zynga peak years, about folks developing gambling-type addictions to freemium games and spending money they don’t have.
EDIT: here’s another article exploring these connections...
And sadly even as far as violence is concerned - there was a horrific story a few years back about a woman who murdered her infant in anger when the child interrupted her FarmVille game.
And many of these studios are going this way! Even back when I was at the company I referred to (~2012), they were already building profiling logic into their backend to try to find the people spending "out of their range" and, effectively, stage interventions for them. They don't want these customers. They aren't their core demographic, any more than they're the core demographic of casinos, or than alcoholics are the core demographic of bars. And like a bar, they'd really rather "cut them off."
why? absent any legal requirements (which bars and casinos may have), isn't it better from a business perspective to get some money off them before they go bankrupt?
Suppose your customer has $500/month in disposable income. Then you want $500/month from them. $1000/month is bad. It means they're borrowing money, and every dollar they borrow they not only have to pay back, they have to pay interest on -- at the crazy high rates that people with bad self control have to pay. All of which comes out of the $500/month you could have had from them going forward.
Example: the iPad is the defacto standard for electronic flight bags (digital charts for pilots), and the market rate is $75 per year. Higher end subscriptions with terrain awareness and instrument approaches are $150 per year. A rule designed to limit freemium games would hurt the EFB market on the iPad.
The underlying hypothesis that these games have addictive properties targeting a segment with maybe low impulse control seems far more plausible. These are slot machines, not high-stakes blackjack tables.
This really is different to a government introducing some legislation.
>According to our data, that’s not the case.
Well that's interesting.
Are your SDKs installed on at least 90% of all apps in PlayStore? If not 90% what is the percentage?
The report uses data from our SDK identification engine, which works for all apps.
Do you download each binary and examine its content? Even paid ones? Large ones? Obfuscated?
What is the error margin of your methodology? Or you are 100% precise? Sorry I am honestly interested in the details, and I didnt find error margin anywhere for this study or details about methodology.