Can We Talk About IAPs?

Giant Boulder of Death

Okay Adult Swim Games, this time you’ve gone too far.

Your latest title, Giant Boulder of Death, has a silly premise and unique gameplay, but the experience is almost entirely ruined by the extra screens I have to endure before I can actually get to the game. Before every round I’m constantly nagged to connect my Facebook account, and afterwards I’m reminded how much easier it would all be if I just bought more stuff.

The industry calls this practice “free to play”, which is a bit misleading — what we’re really talking about here is in-app purchases, or IAPs. And IAPs appear to be the future of gaming on all mobile platforms, whether we like it or not.

There was a really good piece about IAPs on Android Authority last month. Some fun facts:

IAPs, it seems, are great for developers because (1) they combat piracy and (2) they yield more revenue than a traditional app store purchase. And IAPs are great for users because happy developers making a profit are going to give us more and better games, right?

I’m not so sure…

My biggest issue with IAPs is that they circumvent users’ rights on their app store of choice. For example, on Google Play the refund window for paid apps has been scaled back from 24 hours to a mere 15 minutes — but for IAPs there is no refund policy at all. You can try contacting the developer to get your money back, but you’re very much on your own.

Furthermore, the very proposition of the modern app marketplace is that with every app the user gets a license that’s transferable to any supported device on that same platform. IAPs? Not necessarily.

Here’s what Google says about transferring IAPs:

Restoring in-app purchases are the responsibility of the developer.

Not exactly comforting… and for iOS it’s even worse:

You can’t sync or transfer non-renewing subscriptions and consumable In-App Purchase to another iOS device or Mac.

Granted, we’re talking about games here — light entertainment to keep you occupied during the idle moments of your day. But we’re also talking about your hard-earned money, along with your rights to the content you’ve purchased.

With the success of IAPs for game developers, I can foresee the practice spreading to other apps as well. I have to say that I’m not exactly thrilled by this prospect.

How do you feel about IAPs?