Monday, 25 March 2013

Time to wise up to Freemium

The recent case of a £1,700 Zombies vs Ninja bill should be a wake-up call for how ruthlessly children are being used as cash cows.

“That will be £699.99, please.”

For all the criticisms I have of Apple, one of the things they got right was the App store. They weren’t first people to use this model (Linux distros had already used this approach for years), but they did pioneer mainstream adoption. This has brought a lot of benefits: software installed through repositories such as App Stores easily remains up to date, you don’t have to search on the internet to find the program you’re after (and therefore little danger of accidentally installing a spiked program masquerading as the one you’re after), and it’s easy to remove anything you don’t like (as opposed to hoping the program came with a working uninstall mechanism). It’s also opened up the market on paid apps beyond the big players, and pushed down prices; no more will we be forking out £29.99 for very basic games. On the whole this has been a major step forwards.

Not everything about it has been welcomed. There are quite a few iffy questions about Apple and Windows 8’s over-zealous vetting policies, which I’ve discussed before. But lately I’ve seen a new breed of programs coming to App stores which I think needs questioning. These are known as “Freemium”, and these apps, usually games, are free to download. But if you want to advance in the game, you have to pay real money to receive in-game power-ups. Let’s make this clear: it is nothing like the old model of a free demo version or a paid full-version – they make their money from customers who pay for upgrades again, and again, and again. Freemium advocates might argue that if you want to be a football champion, you have to spend money on a decent kit and training, but I don’t agree. This is cyber-land, where “training” and “kit” is merely changing a few ones and zeros in your favour, and unlike real training and kit this costs nothing to make. I would rather liken this to an owner of a cricket pitch charging you extra for bowling overarm.