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Apple begins rejecting apps that offer rewards for video views, social sharing (techcrunch.com)
225 points by jasonpbecker on June 9, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 190 comments

Good riddance.

Let's go even further and have them ban consumable IAPs. There's almost no legitimate use case for them other than creating pretend currencies that make people hit the skinner box lever harder and spend more money.

I am reminded of a quote:

"Indeed, a major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it ... gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself."

Sure, Apple can do with its platform what it wishes, but the arguments I see being put forth here are troubling. "The ignorant masses are making the 'wrong' choices for themselves, and we in our benevolent wisdom should substitute our preferences for theirs." Where does that sort of thinking end?

I think if you ask most people battling health issues or have eating problems whether they could force their future selves for the next month to be not allowed to order dessert, they would choose to. They wouldn't trust themselves in the heat of the moment.

There's a fundamental disconnect we have between our short term and long term interests, and it manifests in all kinds of problems people end up with, including their health, finances, and relationships. There's an overwhelming body of psychological evidence that suggests that these issues are real, prevalent, exploitable and exploited.

To give an example, there's evidence that shows that we're more likely to succumb to temptation when we're mentally exhausted. If that's not bad enough, actively resisting temptation is exhausting! [1] That's why putting a snack bar full of M&Ms, Snickers, and apples near a bunch of stressed out engineers leads to a more unhealthy workplace (guess which snack is always left over). You can say that the engineers are free to not partake, and I say there's more freedom to focus on other things in their absence.

To bring it back to this topic, I think computers need mechanisms to help people with self-control, and a great first step is to curtail software that exists to exploit people with poor impulse control.

There's a saying that I am reminded of:

"The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master."

1) http://danariely.com/2012/08/15/understanding-ego-depletion/

> I think if you ask most people battling health issues or have eating problems whether they could force their future selves for the next month to be not allowed to order dessert, they would choose to.

This is the argument against the legalization of hard drugs. You hear it most often from ex-addicts "we can't legalize meth, I was tweaking out so hard I'm surprised I turned my life around and I'm not dead!".

As emotionally appealing as they are, their arguments are false. First, criminalization didn't actually prevent them from getting hooked. Nor, as it turns out, did their bad life experiences somehow outweigh the lack of freedom imposed on everyone else.

The only people more mentally ill than the overeaters and the tweakers and the junkies are the screwed-in-the-head busybodies rushing from social issue to social issue hellbent on saving people from themselves.

While willpower can be exhausted, it's also possible to increase willpower reserves via such things as exercise and meditation[1].

Personally, I think promoting education and awareness (and providing training) to people wishing to improve their willpower would be preferable to further empowering the immense coercive apparatus of the state to interfere in the minute details of our lives.

People lacking willpower will always find ways to self-sabotage, so helping them increase their willpower would be far more efficient than trying to ban every single thing that their poor willpower could render harmful to them.

1. http://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2011/12/29/a-conversation-abou...

It's kind of a catch-22, isn't it? Are folks on the lower third of the willpower bell curve (those who need it the most) going to be willing to endure extensive mindfulness training? Especially with all those distractions sitting in their pockets?

Well it couldn't hurt to try, to at least make it easily accessible to them. The success of Alcoholics Anonymous is a testament to people's willingness to seek help where its available.

Considering how willpower is a predictor for success in many facets of life, techniques (scientifically verified ones, not the mumbo-jumbo ones) that improve willpower and concentration would seem like perfect candidates for addition to school curricula. Meditation is generally quite a subjectively pleasant experience, so if people could be taught to do it even once they might decide to keep it up in future purely for the sensation it brings them.

The problem is that when you're talking about a free market benefiting all its actors you're talking about those actors being rational. Psychological tricks like skinner boxing really lower any credibility in that assumption.

Too look at the freedom thing another way, I may have no right to stop someone from trying to fly away off a cliff but if it looks like they are just about to jump to their doom I feel I should step in.

Though I agree it's a dangerous line that could be drawn anywhere between requirements to go to church, prohibition, scams, and the ability to sell yourself into slavery.

It will probably never end, since putting a stop to app shenanigans is very much a cat-and-mouse game, and I'm very happy that Apple isn't afraid to put devs in check. People who want to view ads for in-app currency are more than welcome to do so on the Android Marketplace.

I wish they'd go away there, too. Same with "please rate us" popups.

The flipside is the market clearly doesn't think mobile games are directly worth enough to pay for making them.

The dominance of IAPs is not something engineered by the game makers, it's just that it is so much more lucrative it is what enables the production values of modern mobile titles to be what they are. Many game makers would prefer it if you could charge somewhere around $5 per title and make a decent amount from honest players, but unless you have some uberbrand crossover from console land that's not going to work.

the market clearly doesn't think mobile games are directly worth enough to pay for making them

I would argue that this pattern is an irrationality that must be corrected with force [1]:

When faced with a choice of selecting one of several available products (or possibly buying nothing), according to standard theoretical perspectives, people will choose the option with the highest cost–benefit difference. However, we propose that decisions about free (zero price) products differ, in that people do not simply subtract costs from benefits and perceive the benefits associated with free products as higher.

That is, users systematically spring for games with lower cost-benefit tradeoffs simply because they are offered for free. While this would be economically infeasible for game developers, they've figured out how to take advantage of other psychological breakdowns to extract revenue. On a larger scale I'm not sure this makes users as happy as they could be.

1) http://web.mit.edu/ariely/www/MIT/Papers/zero.pdf

>That is, users systematically spring for games with lower cost-benefit tradeoffs simply because they are offered for free.

Except that's not what the paper says. It just notes that the decision-making process that goes on in people's heads doesn't just include the monetary cost (duh), and that when one option is "free" some other non-monetary factor is revealed (e.g., removing the mental cost of even having to do a cost/benefit analysis).

That said, I'm troubled by your notion that when people's actual behaviour does not conform to a model, the problem is with the people.

I'm not saying that the users know that free options have lower cost-benefit tradeoffs, but in reality, experiments show that they do, specifically the on I cited.

But you raise an interesting point. It could well be that the "mental cost of even having to do a cost/benefit analysis" is too high for many people to consider paid options. That reenforces the proposal that Apple should wean users off of low (even negative) utility free options and train them to make such evaluations efficiently, the way many of us who are used to paying for software can. Again, all of this predicated on the thesis that benefit - cost - mental cost (which improves as we learn how to evaluate software) of many paid apps is higher than the average benefit of free apps.

As for my notion that people's actual behavior doesn't conform to a model of rationality, perhaps we should agree to disagree. There is plenty of research to suggest that people are bad at making calculations and require intervention.

Actually, you bring up an interesting point - perhaps Apple already does wean off users from free options. Perhaps this is a move directed at consumers and not game producers.

Apple stands to gain nothing if users don't pay up - 30% of 0 is 0. Therefore they need to eliminate 0-dollar items from the market - but you can't go straight and do it because it would cause an uproar. So they make it infeasible for game developers to offer free games, and will extract the selling commission from the resulting non-zero priced games.

It would prevent the tsunami of stupid titles from showing up. Companies would get into the game (pun intended) only if sure they had a decent product. Just as always.

The amount of trickery I have seen in IAPs is disgusting.

This is like arguing that Walmart should be banned. You might think the products are stupid, but there are enough people that don't spending money on their preferences to create the current situation. If there is a problem it is with consumers.

Admittedly this does poison the well for many other game developers, but the reality is getting attention in the current mobile market is close to impossible without an enormous spend, so conservatism of business model is going to rule the roost now.

It also doesn't help that self professed hardcore gamers undervalue mobile titles enormously, and that touch controls just aren't good enough for many purposes either.

Could you imagine a Walmart that had fast checkout lanes that charged a few dollars extra, and regular checkout lanes that didn't have baggers and deliberately went slowly, even if there wasn't anyone ahead of you in the line?

You kind of do already. You have the choice between convenient places near you which cost more or drive to out of town big box stores where things are supposedly cheaper.

Or you can buy online, and wait until tomorrow for your items but pay less again.

I'd love a store that offered that. Sometimes I go to buy something then just walk out because they're processing so long. Sometimes I'm tempted to throw down cash and walk out but I figure that might cause a security incident.

But being able to skip the line for a few bucks is great. I do the same when flying, too.

Except to make this analogy complete the store would make you wait 30 minutes to check out even if there was no one else in the store. In other words, the wait is artificial to begin with.

Paying to be prioritized in a system with limited resources is one thing, paying to get rid of an entirely artificial restriction is quite something else.

It's a video game. Everything is artificial. Following the reasoning here I would expect that a proper game would be beat when I started it and any interaction I have with it is some kind of artificial barrier that should be removed.

This logic doesn't follow. Most video games don't optimize their gameplay mechanics for conversion to micropayments - and the ones that do are widely under attack.

Sure, all mechanics in all games are man-made, but to continue the analogy, we're talking about an entirely artificial wait time to check out that's been specifically optimized to make you pay for the "express" checkout. In other words, the wait exists for no reason except to extract more money from you.

The whole core of the argument is that developers used to optimize the mechanics of the game for fun and enjoyment, and now instead optimize the mechanics for how frequently and continually they can suck money out of your pockets. There is now a gigantic philosophical and developmental gap between the "pay once" and "pay monthly" business models and the "pay always" business model.

They kind of already do this with their pharmacies.

Agreed on the checkout, but the flying thing always struck me as stupid. You spend some extra dollars so you can skip ahead and... spend longer on the plane? It's not like that's any more fun than standing in a queue.

Well...if you know you can skip the line ahead of time, you don't have to get to the airport quite as early. I'd imagine that's the main draw for Clear and the other programs. Plus not having to take off your shoes etc.

Not getting molested comes at a price: $85 for pre-check status. That said, you also have to hand over your social media history and web browsing history. Its required for your KTN.

Handing over social media and web browsing history for KTN... sarcasm? If not, I'm curious to see a source - never heard anything about that sort of screening and a quick google didn't pull anything either.

First, at the security line, there's no benefit for hanging around outside. And you can go later - I usually show up an hour before boarding, even for international. Skipping security lines means unlikely to miss boarding.

Being able to skip boarding line means a: I can hang out in the lounge until a bit later, or b: get on the plane earlier so I can order drinks, get comfy and start sleeping or reading or whatever.

Being up front also means getting in before a ton of people at customs, sometimes. So that might be another 30-40 minutes of standing around in some cases (or worse).

Surely all foot traffic should be considered equal, and we shouldn't be both paying for a product and then paying again for how we get out of the store!

Footwork Neutrality! (/s)

They have this in South America, it's called "preferred checkout." Seems pretty standard as far as I can tell (they don't go deliberately slow, but they're deliberately understaffed).

My guess was this is more likely to offed American consumer's egalitarian sentiment and the revenue from membership would pale in comparison to the PR hit. Or maybe it's just inertia from early grocery store practices.

If it were the only grocery store around I might see it as wrong, but personally I'd just shop somewhere else.

I could imagine that, and it would be a bit silly and (I'd guess) not too successful, but I certainly wouldn't find it offensive or somehow morally wrong.

Great idea actually.

This isn't limited to games, though. My experience is that people see "app on my phone" and think "disposable, like kleenex--and should cost about as much as a single sheet of the stuff."

One shouldn't underestimate the sheer effort required to get even trivial revenue from any one app, regardless of genre or quality.

* Companies would get into the game (pun intended) only if sure they had a decent product. Just as always.*

You highly overestimate the ability to judge a winner ahead of time. If only the products we knew we're going to be "decent" got made, we'd have a considerably less innovative society.

Not to mention that this is all just completely subjective. I know plenty of people hat are legitimately happy with their "trash games" (just like certain tv...), and who am I to explain to them what they should actually like?

Your trickery is someone else's fun game, though. It's a larger philosophical question if you have the right to stop someone from "being taken advantage of" if they are a willing, informed, enthusiastic participant in the process.

Nopes. Crappy games would just cost more.

See: every generation of video gaming.

The trickery is definitely an issue. But I don't have any problem with allowing users to watch an ad or watch a video promoting another app in exchange for more coins, or more 'points' in order to continue playing a game.

The flipside is the market clearly doesn't think mobile games are directly worth enough to pay for making them.

But it doesn't necessarily follow that mobile games have to be digital crack. If a game can't survive on <$100 of IAPs per user, I'd be happy to see that game not exist.

Why not just ignore the existence of it? I have a feeling that the way this conversation is headed is toward app marketplaces having separate categories for with-IAP apps and without-IAP apps. It's clear to me that many consumers are very happy with the IAP option, whereas many are completely repulsed by it. Apple and Google should help both groups find the apps that appeal to them.

You're asking why have consumer protection systems at all, more or less. And the answer is that some people make poor choices that hurt society as a whole - both by putting themselves in vulnerable positions, and by rewarding the exploiter's bad behavior.

Here's the simple measuring stick: If spending money on IAP is a substitute for skill in terms of game progression, it's a societal negative.

It exploits those least able to make good decisions. And it ruins what may have once been good games for the rest of us. What might be a really good game is distorted by the IAP market. You are monetarily rewarded for adding subtle gates that are very difficult to pass without spending money.

And worst thing about all this? Ask the people who spend a bunch of money if they really think the game is fun. Go ahead - ask them.

My impression is that it's crowding out games that would actually be good.

Good according to who?

I suspect that an element of (for example) Candy Crush's success is that it is actually very close to what people are looking for out of a game. People who self-identify as "gamers" are likely repulsed by it, but they are generally not the people who Candy Crush was made for.

OK, so now I'm imagining those people playing a version of Candy Crush where they spend $100 instead of $10,000. Are they more or less happy?

IMO the market doesn't think mobile games are woth enough to pay _without_prior_testing_ . These mobile apps platforms should relly offer a better structure for demos. Remember the sharewares ?

Perhaps it would be alright if all the games that can't be sold for $5 each just didn't exist?

I'm not sure the desire to not want things to exist that other people are choosing to use. I don't like many romantic comedies, sure, but I don't then additionally desire they not exist altogether. I am capable of accepting that there exists a segment of the market that doesn't interest me but (clearly) satisfies a large group of other people. Let's not forget that the flip side to this may be a return to just having a few AAA titles.

Free-to-play games aren't going away anytime soon and neither are IAPs. Consumers just don't pay for games anymore and a developer has to make money somehow. I like what Apple is doing by forcing developers to make more ethical games.

This Gamasutra article on ethical free-to-play gaming comes to mind and foreshadowed Apples move - http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/207779/ethical_freetop...

Edit: I'm referring to mobile - "New research shows free-to-play on mobile isn't slowing down" http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/211333/New_research_shows...

There are good IAPs (like permanent unlocks) and bad IAPs (like consumables).

There's apps that offers "credits" to access features on an ad-hoc basis that would otherwise require a full subscription. That's actually cheaper for some people and allows them to try it out without committing to a full subscription.

You can't be so black and white about IAP.

It's not cut and dry like that.

Why isn't it? It certainly sounds simple.

Perhaps I misunderstood you but not all consumables are bad IAPs.

> Consumers just don't pay for games anymore

This is completely absurd. Look at Steam. Or every game console.

But those games don't run on phones, and we're talking about phones in this discussion today.

Why are phones magically different when we're discussing games? You're going to have to justify that.

1. Market

2. Gaming experience

Steam users or console owners have spent time, money or both just to have the equipment to play games. I'm guessing that the same market that buys consoles buys smartphones, so they may be more likely to buy good phone games. But maybe not! I mean, they have a console at home so if a game they want is cross platform maybe they prefer to play it on that?

The gaming experience is also hugely different. They are converging, but there are still so many differences. That blazing fast new processor doesn't do much for controls, screen size, battery life, multiplayer - all of these are things that stop phones from competing with consoles directly. My guess is this is a reason that the top games are time wasters.

Compare the most popular free games on Steam and consoles with mobile devices. Off the top of my head, Candy Crush Saga and multiple free Angry Birds titles have over 100m downloads on Google Play alone.

Number of downloads doesn't matter because they are free and they make no money off of downloads. You need to look at the total amount made.

The competition matters. Even if my competitors are making $0, they still reduce the amount I make.

I would say mobile games are viewed as more disposible than PC or Console games.

Developers can pull a game from the Android or iOS markets at any time and unless you somehow made a backup, you'll never get to play it again if you happened to reset your device or get a new one. With steam though, my game library stays there, even if the developer no longer sells the game on Steam (happened with the Wolfenstein game that came out a few years ago). Also, many mobile games also depend on server side resources and won't function without them.

Have you ever seen the app store?

It is crammed with "free" games that have long lists of IAPs to remove slow-down timers and similar.

Oh come on. You know the poster was referring to mobile gaming, not gaming in general.

The 3DS XL and PS Vita are also doing quite well.

Right! But my guess would be that those are purchased for the purpose of playing games by the majority of customers, and that phones are not.

Now you're just being intentionally obtuse.

I for some reason can't reply to your other comments but the difference between consoles and phone games is that free games actually exists for phones. You can't buy an XBox and have access to hundreds of the most popular games for free. People buy an XBox knowing that they will have to buy games. People who buy phones, know that the app store or google play contains thousands of free offerings.

Note that Apple's efforts might drive up the prices of games and IAPs. Consider the effect of an app offering rewards to users who share it. What is the economic effect of that? The app developer is driving down their average cost of acquiring more customers. Cut that off, and suddenly the app developer has to spend more to acquire customers through some other method (advertising being the most obvious option). In order to preserve profit, revenue must go up. Consumers get slugged with more costly IAPs and apps, or greater amounts of ads within apps.

I think it's a question of offering some kind of good old demo mode for games. The problem is not that people don't pay for games (they do, see IAP) but that people don't want to pay for things without knowing what they are buying. Apple has pretty much everything in place to offer (usage) time limited demo versions of paid apps. Many IAPs are using dark UX patterns. Claiming "but they don't have a choice!" is at best naive.

Here's a review of a game that offers the first few levels free, with a single IAP to unlock the rest of the game. Everything is clear and above board and seems to follow the Doom (etc) model - playable game and pay to unlock the rest.


Note that this reviewer calls it "tacky".

Sure, if the game isn't properly up-front about being a limited time demo, it rightfully feels tacky. But if you "bought" it by clicking a "try for a day" button, why would it feel tacky?

Making demos is usually a net loss for developers. There are few scenarios where the extra time and effort put into a demo actually result in increased sales [0].

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QM6LoaqEnY

I wasn't talking about "making demos". I was talking about native support in the platform to limit usage of an app to a certain time. The developer just clicks a checkbox "make 24 usage hour demo available" and that's it.

Large media catalogs need consumables. Every in app purchase item has to be approved by apple individually making it extremely impractical to list an IAP for every single item.

You mean large media catalogs that don't have flat subscription pricing. Netflix does fine without IAP.

Do you have a counter example?

I can think of one - ever heard of TouchTunes? They have internet-streaming jukeboxes in many bars and restaurants. You can sign into them with your phone using their app, buy credit with an IAP, and then you spend the credit on the jukebox, selecting songs to play IRL with your phone.

It's technically IAP consumables, but it doesn't seem skeevy like the clash of clans / candy crushes of the world.

How are you going to define "consumable"? A game like clash of clans or candy crush could just restructure things so that you get to permanently "keep" your purchase, but it is still practically consumed. So for example, you could "have" an item that only worked for 15 minutes after purchase. If that's too transparent, consider some kind of level scheme where those level 3 units you bought last week are basically worthless against the level 5 unis you're up against this week. How are you going to forbid that?

The apps have a human review process. It's not like there's some algorithm that handles these kind of things.

The problem you mention is very much a "I'll know it when I see it" type thing - I'd trust Apple to bring down the hammer on someone trying to rules-lawyer their way around the restriction.

Human-reviewing the "scamminess" of an IAP at Appstore scale would be a complete disaster. Every reviewer would have to understand the full dynamics of the game before improperly labelling an IAP as scammy.

Its impractical to think every reviewer can spend enough time with every game to make the right call.

I'd disagree - in my experience, the carrot and the stick is often visible within the first few minutes of play.

Clash of Clans is a good example, the "use gems to skip build timers" mechanic is revealed during the opening tutorial.

That isn't scammy. In these sorts of RTS games there are build times. Its special to not wait on those. Remember the cheat code everylittlethingshedoes in WarCraft II? How is buying access to that scammy? You don't have to buy it - and you can play the game. No one is forcing you to buy it, just as no one is forcing you to play.

The entire game is structured around annoying the player into speeding up build timers and buying other resources via very expensive consumables.

They start out reasonable, seconds to minutes, soon a day or two, and quickly scale up to the point where everything you want to do takes weeks of real time. And that's before you get into the other resources required!

Calling CoC and its mechanics an RTS is an insult to RTSes. When I queue up a Portal in Starcraft 2, I do not wait for a full week with the option to spend $4 to finish it instantly.

And another thing, the "you don't have to buy/play it" argument is really non-sequitur when we're considering app store policies whose reason for existing is banning annoying behavior. The entire point of games like CoC is to manipulate vulnerabilities in the human decision making process for great profit. CoC is basically Farmville with battles, which is crap for the same reason that Zynga and all their "games" are crap.

A simple test: Could the paid consumables be removed and replaced with game-earned items only with no negative impact to the experience? If yes, the paid consumables are probably crap.

Ever think for one moment that a mobile RTS has a different use case and different market than someone who plays Starcraft 2? Don't you think there are more of "those people", than those that will be annoyed with week build times.

If these "RTS" (keep in mind, its just marketing) games are only designed to be played a few minutes a day, over weeks and months, it could be easily continually engaging. Much like a late night show or your weekly Game of Thrones.

For that reason, you probably aren't the target market. Having a fleet of IAP testers (who are humans and get sick, quit their job, change positions) that are fully trained in all the existing games as well as being experts in game mechanics and can quickly understand new IAPs and new game types as they emerge is a very myopic and naive view of the world.

The "scam" argument boiled down to its core is really a moral judgement. With that I'd say good luck attempting to scale that and not piss someone important off.

We're talking about the Apple App Store, home of "we know evil when we see it" policies. They see lack of specificity as a feature.

Basically, people are criticizing games where it is possible to spend a ridiculously large (or inifinte) amount of money. Any loopholes should be obvious enough that they're not a problem.

A newspaper might structure their IAPs so that instead of buying a subscription or a single issue you can buy a "bundle" of issues. I.e. instead of a 1 Week subscription you buy 7 issues and the counter only decrements when you actually download one, whether that takes 7 days or 7 months to happen.

But that's not really the point anyway - there's absolutely no reason they couldn't say consumable IAPs can only be used for media. IIRC they did something similar when they started subscriptions and background content updates.

However, that would just mean that the games with consumable IAPs will switch to subscription IAPs (where the subscription is short - probably a few hours to a few days at most). I'm not sure how much better that is.

Or they will start selling media. If you search long enough, you may be able to find someone willing to borrow you that book with magical recipes, but you can also buy it in the bookshop...

The difference between digital media and game items can be made very, very small.

Also, I don't think the issue is with consumables. For example, that magic book I mentioned above becomes your property ever after in the same sense that an ebook you buy at Amazon or Apple becomes your property. Similarly, I could sell you the eternal right to take a shortcut in some virtual world. With enough shortcuts (and the matching long boring detours that people not owning the right to use them) one still can make a game that many would judge to be more an attempt at getting ever more money from its players than a game.

Finally, in real life, we are fine buying consumables all the time, and we also are willing to pay seemingly arbitrary amounts of money for them. For example, for many, $10 for a cup of coffee is absurd. Yet, there also are many who happily pay it, if the situation is right.

So, it's not selling consumables, it is milking your users that people object to.

> However, that would just mean that the games with consumable IAPs will switch to subscription IAPs (where the subscription is short - probably a few hours to a few days at most).

Apple already thought of that, and it's specifically prohibited by the App Store Review Guidelines:

> Apps may only use auto renewing subscriptions for periodicals (newspapers, magazines), business Apps (enterprise, productivity, professional creative, cloud storage) and media Apps (video, audio, voice), or the App will be rejected

There are plenty of dating apps with auto-renewing subscriptions.

I think a big problem with Apple is that the whole review process is a black box, because the documentation is thin, contrary, or non-existent. You basically have to submit and hope they accept your app and when it's rejected, the reasons are often arbitrary or contrary to previous submissions that were excepted.

I can't think of any counter examples that are available on iOS anyway, because of the sales restrictions: the two I thought of were the Kindle and Nook stores, but you can't buy books in either app because Amazon and Barnes and Noble aren't prepared to give apple a 30% cut of the sale.

What's funny is you can buy books in the Amazon Store app (not the Kindle app) and then open the Kindle app and read them.

The inkling app lets you buy ebooks.


I'm hoping that the Family Sharing features that require the person with the credit card to approve purchases will be the death knell for games that require IAPs.

But I agree with everyone else, IAP's are the meth in the AppStore ghetto.

Tricking kids is one thing but I expect a large portion of the sales are just adults who are willing to pay.

If people want to waste their money on consumable IAPs, I don't see why Apple (or anyone else, for that matter) should prevent it.

I consider those games spam, and luckily so does Apple. It's a consumer win.

(EDIT: I guess I should have clarified better: I'm not defending the crapware, social share-driven apps mentioned by the OP. There's good IAPs, and bad IAPs, and the latter should indeed be banned. I'm just against the widespread sentiment that all IAP is bad. I have no problem with Candy Crush making millions of dollars thru IAP, provided they deliver value to users)

"Consumer win" is giving them choice.

Users spend millions of dollars on IAPs, because it was relevant to them. This created an entire industry of game developers, artists, story writers, that rely on IAPs to keep their apps free.

Without IAP, they would have to charge upfront for the app. While it is certainly an option, I'd prefer to let developers and customers figure out the model they want, rather than having Apple or Google enforcing it.

Anyway, IAP is one of the most important pillars of Apple's mobile strategy, so it obviously isn't going away anytime soon.

There's a difference between short- and long-term interest. People are bad at the latter. Yes, there's demand for a free game - duh, of course people want free games. And when they have to pay a euro to get the game to really progress. Sure, why not? And then they need to pay a bit more. And they are still fine with it. But they are less and less satisfied. They try the next game - and the same thing happens. For me the end result is: I stopped looking at games for my iPhone because I have a deep mistrust for apps. Most things that look high quality turn out to be terribly designed (from a game design POV) and are just employing one dark pattern after the other to get people to make more IAPs.

So, yes, short-term there's demand. There's a market signal that says "this is totally what people want". But mid- and long-term it's bad for the platform because it leads to shitty customer/user experience. It will still make companies money for a while - but the consumers are burning away. And it's really hard to recover from that.

Apple has been more than willing to sacrifice direct profits for user experience - they'd no doubt make more money with the App Store as a free-for-all like the Play Store, but instead they don't do that, and often reject applications which would be quite lucrative for them because they don't meet the guidelines.

IAP isn't going away, but seeing Apple burn a little bit of potential profit to keep the store relatively high quality shouldn't be that surprising.

This sort of close-minded mentality is why I don't use any Apple products. If these games were "spam", then millions of consumers wouldn't be spending so much money on IAPs.

Personally, my problem is not with consumable IAPs, it's spending talented developer effort on games I will never play.

The legitimate use case is that it creates a viable business model:


What about iOS apps like Viggle that have the same model but for music and tv? https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/viggle/id487066871?mt=8

These ads pushers are already circumventing the app store. FreeMyApps uses a website and iOS device profile instead. Will Apple revoke their certificates? http://welcome.freemyapps.com/howitworks-ios.html

I suspect Apple will end up making changes to ad-hoc provisioning which prevent sites like FreeMyApps from operating. This is very clearly not the way that ad-hoc provisioning was intended to be used.

Two of my favorite games at the moment use consumable IAPs, and I think it they have a good model.

Real Racing 3, and Trials Frontier both offer consumable IAPs that mostly remove waiting, or a boring portion of the gameplay. One can compete in game to earn the same money, and wait for repairs... or they can spend money and keep playing. So far I have not spent any money on these games (I am not a good target market for much of anything, so don't read too much into me playing free games), but I enjoy them a lot, and the developers are making a decent business out of it.

Consumable IPAs give developers a chance to get as much money as possible from each person playing. From me that might be $0, but many people are likely to spend more than the $4.99 that would otherwise be the target app price. This seems like the ideal business model to me.

Could you please define IAP?

Google is of no use here and wikipedia links to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IAP

None of which look right:)

"Your house will finish building in 12 hours - or spend 2 golden donuts ($4.99) to have it finish building right now!"

And the bad thing is, there is no filter in the store for these junk applications. Gameloft has a really fun game called Rival Knights, but I stopped playing because after 10 levels of making me like the game, they started asking me to wait more and more to keep playing - or guess guess: Buy some "Royal Ribbons" (play tokens) for real money.

What a crock! I have a kickass ipad but I can't find honest games that don't nickel and dime me.

I couldn't agree more. IAP have destroyed sandbox games. I love the old Sim Tower and Moon Tycoon games. I would love a port of them to mobile. Sandbox games nowadays are all about trying to squeeze every last penny out of the customer.

Actually the sequel to Sim Tower, but it's basically the same thing.

I have an Android tablet and the best way to find honest games (in my experience) has been buying Humble Bundles. Most of the games in them are probably on iOS too (I've heard a lot premier for Android there from iOS) so it could be worth checking out their past bundles.

Actually I just googled and found http://honestandroidgames.com/ - same deal, the good ones are probably on iOS too with the same model.

In-App Purchase

I assume "in-app purchase"

The best example is casino apps. They are selling screen taps to users on their own phones.

>Let's go even further and have them ban consumable IAPs.

No chance whilst Apple gets a 30% cut.

I doubt that'll happen as Apple gets a cut of IAP.

OP is not suggesting they ban all IAP, just consumable ones, which tend to be the most abusive. It would be a bold move and lead to an increase in quality for sure. It would also gut companies like zynga who design their games around them.

Looking at Candy Crash and how Apple incessantly pimps it in every way possible, I think it's bloody obvious that they are getting A TON of money from consumable IAP commissions.

I don't think anyone is questioning whether Apple makes money from consumable IAPs. What we're questioning is whether that factor dominates all others, which it observably does not.

As far as Apple promoting Candy Crush, there's a question about whether this is a cause or effect of its popularity.

It needs not be dominant, it just needs to be significant, which, observably, it is. Just look at the Featured Games list in AppStore.

There are plenty of precedents for Apple banning things that, not banned, would earn them money. One example is the, "I am rich" app.

> [W]here a confused developer wonders, “so we can’t encourage users to share stuffs [sic] on social networks anymore? This is one of the oldest tricks in the book and even Candy Crush uses it.”

"Even Candy Crush uses it" is not the best argument for this developer's point. It is the best argument for Apple's shift in enforcement.

Step 1, eliminate all marketing channels outside of the official App store.

Step 2, charge developers for "sponsored" placement in the App store.

>marketing channels

When your "marketing channel" is my Facebook news feed, then yes, this is absolutely what should happen.

Don't be silly. Are you really suggesting that Apple is doing this to clean up your news feed? They don't care whatsoever. Facebook does, you do, Apple doesn't.

What OP said is right. This is about Apple having tighter control over the app marketplace, not your news feed.

Fine, but preventing spammy behavior is still a good thing.

I don't see anything about restricting use of Adwords, eliminating the "direct to app store" URL infrastructure in Safari, or even telling you not to let users share your app with their friends via social media.

All Apple is doing is telling you that you can't incentivize (read: effectively require) users to do pollute their friends news feeds, which is already a distasteful spam tactic and socially unacceptable. Whatever the ulterior motives, this discourages bad behavior and is still better for users.

Even if it only posts to your FB news feed with explicit permission?

If "explicit permission" to post to my news feed is necessary to proceed through your game in a reasonable way, access features I want, etc... then yes.

I don't agree with the example about Candy Crush integration with facebook for asking friends for lives. I don't think it's in the same category with "share on facebook to earn free gold" kind of practices, which are what Apple is after for in my opinion.

I don't play much games on iOS, so without further information it seems both are directed at pushing friends to install/log into the game. What points fundamentally differ in your opinion ?

They are completely different:

one rewards spamming, the other involves a game mechanic where you ask your friend to do something for you(though it's possible to bug your friends that have nothing to do with the game, if you are inconsiderate person). It's O.K. to ask your friends for a help but it's still your duty to think about bothering if your friend would be annoyed or not.

If your friend plays the game - sure. If it's a random person from your friend list who never used the game on the other hand - that's just exploiting social behavior to make money.

Great but as many have pointed out the biggest problem with the App Store is that IAP has made pricing completely opaque.

The whole experience is completely untrustworthy as an app which requires an average spend of £20+ to use properly is considered more "Free" than an app which costs £2.99.

It's made a complete mockery of prices.

Fixed prices are popular for a reason and I hope Apple learns this and starts properly surfacing information as well as categorising based on the reality of an App's "price."

It would be interesting if the app store displayed the median total expenditure for any application that includes IAP. How would buying behavior be affected when suddenly that "free" game includes a note like "$59 median total spent"?

[Edit: clarity]

I think the median for "free" apps with IAPs would almost always be 0. My guess is that the vast majority of people don't pay anything with a small minority making up the bulk of the app's profits.

What you really need is a value that represents that amount you need to pay to actually enjoy the app which would be a lot harder to quantify.

That's absolutely what our stats say.A tiny portion of players will spend a crazy amount of money in IAP,while the great majority will never pay anything.The "free" app is kinda subsidized. Doesnt excuse dirty IAP tricks,you can choose the IAP model and still let most users have a great experience even without paying.

If you showed the average, but only the average people who have paid something, do you think that would give reasonable numbers?

Why not just show a graph of the whole distribution, sorted by amount spent? It's 2014; single-number summaries can sometimes be useful, but it's not required to use them now we have computers and can work with the full data set.

That's a good point. So, perhaps two numbers: percentage who pay, then median for those who do.

Or instead of a single number representing the average, show a distribution of the mean total spent by each centile of users.

You'll likely see a long flat line at 0 for the first 95% and then a steep curve up for the last 5%.

If an app has high-quality in-app purchases, you will likely see that the curve slopes up slower.

That's the most valid perspective IMO, but it's going to be useless to the audience, when they can't even understand what a "median" is, much less a centile.

The "free" one can at least be tried at no cost. I'm quite annoyed with the iOS App Store keeping my money for several apps that are entirely non-functional.

IAP Ranters. Here is a story. A real one.

I take a coffee break and fire the addictive social game "Boom Beach".

My troops are ready and I am ready to attack the neighbors.

I buy a 5 USD tea + 3 USD water bottle (both I can get free at my office).

The attack doesn't go well. One little error. My break is about to end, but I want to try one more time. Just that, it will take 2 hours to train my troops.

Or Wait, 1.99 USD to speed that up. Hours of planning, that went for the attack and just 2 USD to find out if I was right or wrong. Is it worth it ? I look at my coffee and water, the time, the ending break, the distractions till this is resolved. It's worth it. And while I am putting in 2USD, might as well take the 10USD deal for next 20 battles. Better spent than "expensive-than-movie" popcorn. Ban that first.

I've been playing boom beach for several months and haven't spent a penny. In the same time I've spent over $100 on two lackluster blizzard expansion packs for d3 and sc2. Given the amount of time I've spent and enjoyed the game I don't begrudge people in my position that do spend money. And no it doesn't 2 hours to train troops and there are plenty of free gems.

I haven't spent any money on Boom Beach either, but it can take over 2 hours to train troops if you're at max level using all tanks (4 per boat at 36 minutes each = 144 minutes).

You can only get 3 per boat at max size. Level 20 landing craft have 24 seats, tanks take 8 slots.

3 tanks does take a long time but every other unit trains in a fraction of the time tanks do. Tanks take longer because you will often take no casualties with them.

Ah you're right. I'm not that far (and honestly I'm starting to get bored with it).

Or, you could practice discretionary income discipline and not buy things you don't need?

What I find annoying is that they did this with no warning. I got an app rejected a few days ago. I have a coin model in my apps. The users can a) Complete actions within the apps to earn coins b) Purchase coins through IAPs c) Watch video ads for coins d) Complete offers for coins. Many users have expressed that they were happy with the system, especially the video ads, with reviews such as "I wish there was more videos to watch for coins". With only around 2% of users spending money on IAPs, offers and videos are a good way to monetize at least a portion of the remaining 98%.

Your type of app is the reason why the App store is full of spammy garbage. Good riddance! I hope Apple actually encourage better apps without these skeevy practices.

The app has a 5 star rating in the app store. No users have complained in any way.

Do you have a link to it?

I don't understand the problem. There is a percentage of users that will never spend money on your app. Generally, those users do like being able to earn app functionality by completing tasks such as watching a video.

I see it as a win as a consumer and a win as a developer.

If your app requires earning coins through non-gameplay mechanisms to be a good game, then it's not a good game. If it doesn't require that, then you can get rid of the coins entirely and still have a good game. At which point your only question is monetization.

May I suggest you simply add a banner ad to the game, and then provide a single IAP to remove the banner ad, for players who don't like them? I hate banner ads, so if it's a good game I'll gladly pay a few dollars to kill the ads (and if it's bad game, well, I won't be playing anyway so it doesn't matter what you do).

Don't forget that the only players you're getting feedback from are the ones that currently are engaged with your system. You aren't getting feedback from any of the players that skipped your app in the first place due to the IAP/incentivized coin system. Personally, if I know a game has that sort of system, I will be far less likely to even give it a chance first.


Edit: Another suggestion, which I've seen used in games before, is to keep the coin system, but remove all the incentivized coin stuff (no videos, etc). Then provide a way to earn coins through gameplay. And finally, provide an IAP to increase the rate at which you earn coins in-game. If you tune it correctly, the base "free" game could drop coins at a low-enough rate to still encourage players to seek alternate ways to gain coins, but the coin-booster IAP would then increase the rate to a level at which most players are comfortable playing without buying any more coins through IAP. Then finally, you can still offer coins through IAP for those few players that want them anyway.

Of course, you have to be careful with this approach, because if you don't calibrate it right and people who bought the coin-booster still feel like they aren't getting enough coins to reasonably play the game, then they'll be angry. And if you give too many coins, there will be no incentive at all for anyone to buy IAP. But this just means you have to put enough thought into it to design it correctly

As an example of this approach, Ski Safari Adventure Time uses it (and I assume the original Ski Safari as well but I never played that). Coins are used to purchase in-game upgrades, and they're collected through gameplay, but you can buy a one-time coin booster that doubles the coins you get through gameplay. Personally, I like this approach because it means I can feel like I paid for the game, and it makes the game playable without having to resort to non-gameplay mechanisms to acquire the needed coins. It's also better than the ad approach because not only does it mean you don't have to uglify your UI with ad banners (and don't have to design a UI that can afford to give up that screen space), but buying a coin-booster like this also feels like the user is gaining a reward, as opposed to getting rid of ads which feels like the user is paying a tax, if you will.

So, that might get 99c to remove the banner ads. How do you capture more money from people who want to support the authors?

"Buy a theme. No game play advantage but it gives us cash"? I'd be interested to see how well that pays. (I do agree with you though - many IAPs are awful and force the game designer to break their game so they can sell and IAP to fix it).

$0.99? I was thinking more like $2.99 or so.

Who buys consumable IAP to support app authors anyway? I've never heard of that. Buying single-use IAP like ad-removal or coin-boosting, yeah, people do that to support the authors (I'll do that if I think it's a game I'm actually going to play). But that really only applies to single-time purchases, not consumables.

And yeah, you can add cosmetic stuff like themes, or character costumes, or other non-gameplay-affecting things. That's a decent way to provide an opportunity for people to give you money without making them feel like they have to pay to play (you can even make this stuff cost coins, but set the price a bit high to encourage people to use IAP to afford it (but no so high that people think it's unobtainable without IAP), or have a few "special" items that are IAP-only).

Basically, the best approach IMO is to have virtual currency (coins), that you can earn through gameplay, or purchase with IAP. These coins are used to buy things that are perhaps purely aesthetic, or nice-to-have, but are not required in any sense for actual gameplay, or to be able to get a good high score when competing with friends. For example, in a Ski Safari-style game, you might purchase boosters that deposit you partway into the level; you could certainly get that far on your own, so it doesn't affect your high score, but it skips past the "boring" speed ramp-up and so gets you into the action a bit faster. And since these are purchased with coins instead of directly with IAP, people can still play around with them without spending money, which of course provides a way to use up coins and therefore encourage them to buy more.

Once you have these coins, I would then recommend a single permanent IAP purchase for some form of coin booster, as I suggested before. This provides the easy option for someone who wants to support the game author (and therefore feel like they paid for the game), while at the same time giving them a permanent reward for doing so. Not only that, but because it's a permanent reward that they just spent money for, it then becomes a sunk cost if they stop playing the game, and so it's a subtle encouragement to keep coming back to the game, to make sure they got their money's worth. This works the same way as when paying for a game outright, of course, but the alternative, of just relying on consumable IAP, does not have this property because, of course, once they use up what they bought, they've already extracted all the value they could from the purchase.

Finally, I would suggest avoiding ads if you can get away with not having them. Ads are tacky and ugly and will cause a lot of people (myself included) to not even put in the time to find out if the game is any good. But if you decide you need ads anyway, make the coin booster also disable ads at the same time.

Also, as I said above, a coin booster IAP like this seems more like $2.99-$4.99, not $0.99. The nice thing about having it be IAP instead of an upfront cost is that once people decide they like a game, they're more willing to pay more than a dollar for it. The $0.99 price for a lot of games is like that because people have to pay upfront, and it's hard to convince someone to pay more money when they can just go buy a cheaper game. But once they've already decided they like a game, it's easier to justify the higher price.

Here is the complete rejection text for any app with AdColony rewarded video ads. The ads may not even be for apps:


3.10: Developers who attempt to manipulate or cheat the user reviews or chart ranking in the App Store with fake or paid reviews, or any other inappropriate methods will be removed from the iOS Developer Program 3.10

We found that your app, or its metadata, includes features or content that can have an excessive influence in the listing order or ranking on the App Store, which is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines.

Specifically, we found your app provides users coins for watching a video or trailer and subscribing a third party service. It would be appropriate to remove this information.

Please refer to the attached screenshot for more information.

While your iTunes Connect Application State is Rejected, a new binary will be required. Make the desired metadata changes when you upload the new binary.

Incentivizing users to watch videos could be bad for advertisers, but I can't understand how it would negatively impact Apple or any users.

It doesn't increase downloads unless the app in the video looks decent enough to interest a user, and that seems like it increases app discoverability - something I think Apple would actually want.

Apple runs an ad service. Even if this makes no difference to the app market otherwise, it's a benefit to Apple's ad network.

I'm surprised anyone is willing to pay money for these video ads to be included when the process for them being 'viewed' includes the person putting their phone on silent and doing something else for the 30 seconds or so the ad plays

Are you sure? I think the average amount of attention such ads receive may actually be higher than your typical facebook or Google Content Network ad. The person is waiting for the ad to end to get on with what they wanted to do. Chances are pretty good they might be watching it.

Wow, are you serious? People will watch ads for game credits? Thank goodness I was a kid in the 90s before this wackiness pervaded the gaming industry.

I'm not knocking you BTW - the market will bear what it will bear - but, wow I had no idea this was a thing.

In the 90's you probably watched 10 minutes of ads in exchange for 20 minutes of Television more times than you can count.

I've done it in lieu of paying for consumables. I'm not going to pay the money, but I'm willing to tap a button and do something else for 30 seconds while I wait for my phone to play a video I'm ignoring.

Only on Hacker News would you get downvoted for questioning advertising.

Have we forgotten the days of "insert coin(s) to continue"?

Arcade games holding my progress to ransom was "accepted" in the 80s and 90s. Fast forward to today and watching a video for 30 seconds to gain more credits is unacceptable?

My wife plays a game and she doesn't mind the "watch video ad for in game credits" model. I'm honestly not sure what the hate is about. If you don't like it, don't play the game.

My guess is that the restriction originated with pressure from advertisers. It is hard to determine if a user is actually interested in an add if there is an incentive for clicking and watching.

I see that you report your advertisers are aware, but if Apple chooses this for the ads they manage then I am not surprised they would enforce it universally so that developers don't move away from iADs.

crap like this one reason why buying quality traffic is difficult.

I'm not sure what you mean. I monetize through Ad Colony and SuperSonic Ads. The publishers know they are buying incentivized traffic.

This is a change I wholeheartedly agree with. The prompts in games to make you watch advertisements or download other apps for game credits was always to me a bit iffy. I am glad to see Apple officially forbidding these kind of moves. Developers of free-to-play games will just find other clever ways of making money off of free users, whether that be prompting you to spend real money on in-app purchases or even forcing you too at some point: who knows what will happen.

Interestingly, Google seems headed in the opposite direction. They've even released an app that lets users complete surveys in exchange for Google Play credit.


I feel bad for all the developers who are going to see a substantial drop in revenues from incentivized video ads. But as a user, I am happy to see this change. Developers have been very abusive with in-game credits.

Interesting how the normally libertarian HN is very much against a "free market" in apps, preferring that Apple get to dictate who earns money instead.

HN is not one homogeneous mass of people. There are libertarians who write pro-free market comments and there are authoritarians who write the opposite.

Libertarianism is fun and games until that freedom bites you.

Exactly and Google is also disgraceful. How dare Google filter spam when the "free market" should decide what emails are received.

Your example makes no sense. Market has decided and wants to use a tool like spam filter.

Crucially the market for email providers is really broad, easy to enter, doesn't have explicit lock-in (although it's a potentially huge job to change your email address, this can be made easier by having your own mail domain), and doesn't have one or two big players making the rules.

Most systems including gmail will let you whitelist senders. You can't whitelist apps onto an iPhone without jailbreaking it.

Random thoughts:

They are supposedly now banning keywords in titles so you won't be seeing more title like Floopy Bird - incredibly fun additive threes 2048 game. Good.

As for banning incentivized social actions: that really sucks if you aren't one of the companies (like King, Zynga, etc) that have really benefited from the growth of using those incentivized actions. Developers that came before you won't be punished and you are now going to have to spend your way to the top. Good luck with that.

One rumor is that they are banning some incentivized video ad networks because ads were coming up with Google Play logos. Oops.

Anyways - the long and short of it is, while the policies are probably net positive for the consumer, the people that gamed the system early still win.

It's about time. It's not only games that do this, even brand name companies pay for positioning via incentivized downloads from these marketing companies.

So where do you draw the line between viewing advertisements to play the game, and viewing advertisements to enhance the game? What makes a video view for gold coins different from an ad view to proceed to the next screen? I don't fully understand the distinction here?

Perhaps the concern for Apple is that one of those methods circumvents Apple's ad network, the other cannot?

Would this be a fair guess? I'm not fully understanding Apple's motivation here either unless it was about bringing Apple back in as a dependency on ad revenue rather than sidelined.

The clause of being able to promote apps that are made by the same publisher will have a very significant impact on the industry and could even lead to more consolidation and a significant disadvantage for independent developers. In fact, I think this could lead to a business opportunity for publishing as a service whereby a developer can host their app with a partner and get paid based on the number of ads clicked, impressions, etc.

Overall, an unfriendly move for developers. I think it might be time to buy some Zynga ;-).

Thats very good move, i guess.

Good. Start with Angry Birds Star Wars telepods and don't let them back in if they remove it. Rovio really ruined the good thing they had going by getting way too greedy.

If Apple would just open up sideloading, all of the controversy could just go away.

In exchange for the "malware on iOS!" controversy? No thanks.

Malware is kept at bay by the sandbox. App review does jack squat to stop malware. Sideloaded apps could still be sandboxed.

Downvoters: please explain yourself. Is what I said incorrect?

does this mean hay day is gone?

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