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How Micro-Transactions Will Shake Up iPhone 148

Spanner Spencer writes "Talk to iPhone games developers, and the feature they're most excited about in the new iPhone 3.0 software is the ability to do in-game micro-transactions. And while you might wonder if this is just an excuse to get iPhone gamers to dip into their wallets even more often, it's actually a hugely positive thing for several reasons. Downloadable content, virtual items, subscription billing and fast-track social advancement are some of them, so Pocket Gamer looks into a bit more depth about what you can expect on the micro-payments side once iPhone 3.0 debuts."
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How Micro-Transactions Will Shake Up iPhone

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  • Takes me back (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Norsefire ( 1494323 ) * on Monday June 01, 2009 @11:59AM (#28169115) Journal
    You are out of lives.

    Pay 20c to continue.
  • Abuse? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TinBromide ( 921574 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @12:00PM (#28169117)
    How long until we start seeing "lite" apps with all the buttons, but there's a tiny bit of text at the bottom "If you would like to click this button, you agree to pay $.25". /tinfoilhat

    Back to reality though, I really like that the iphone app store was once a place where dev's could make a halfway decent program based on a really cool idea and make money as a reward. It also felt like the golden days of the old shareware scene before it got stale and people started depending on it and expecting it to pay their bills. While I have yet to pay for an app on the itouch, there are a few I might have if I had an iphone with it's mobile connection and gps (the geocaching app would be the first on my list).

    However, I really don't like the idea of a microtransaction for iphone gaming. I think that the microtransaction system in gaming implies that someone has a heavy emotional attachment to the game and the majority of microtransaction items are prestige items. In order for those two criteria to work, you need two criteria: A game that someone will play for more than a few hours before buying another $1.00 game and persistent multiplayer. I.E. Why buy a coat for a character that you will play on a plane flight and never again? Especially if the only way that people will see it is if you show them the character on your iphone. ("Oh, that's nice, you paid extra for him to be lime green!"). By the way, if you're thinking of buying extra levels, how many labyrinth lite instances have you seen on iphones? How many full versions? The only difference is more levels, but I haven't met anybody that felt the need to buy more levels for a novelty game.

    That and the other major types of apps that i've seen IT and casual people use are information access type apps (urban spoon, website readers like for fmylife, directories, directions, recipes, etc) and resource access type apps (ssh, remote login, and other IT based monitoring/remote tools), nobody is going to pay a quarter every time they want to look up directions or login to thier server, and they'll probably just buy the full app and expense it or eat the cost for making their lives "easier". So the only thing I can see is a feature list a la carte, i.e. if you look at the list of features that differentiate a lite and full version of an app, and you only charge a small amount per feature, you might get more money in the long run due to people not wanting everything, but only picking out what suits them.
  • by Norsefire ( 1494323 ) * on Monday June 01, 2009 @12:23PM (#28169443) Journal
    MMOs make you pay regardless of if you die or not.
  • by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @12:24PM (#28169461)

    It would be fairly trivial to get around this restriction. Just sell at $10 version of the Kindle app that gives you $10 store credit towards your first purchase. Of course people might balk at the $10 initial cost, so it may be more effective to sell it for $1, or whatever Apple has set as the minimum cost.

    If you're going to be making a considerable amount of micro-transactions, the initial cost is probably worth the added convenience. Of course, Apple could always make exceptions [daringfireball.net] as it may have done in the past.

  • Re:Abuse? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tokerat ( 150341 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @12:25PM (#28169477) Journal

    I.E. Why buy a coat for a character that you will play on a plane flight and never again? Especially if the only way that people will see it is if you show them the character on your iphone. ("Oh, that's nice, you paid extra for him to be lime green!").

    One of two things will happen. Either people are dumb enough to do it and make it profitable, or game companies will find out quickly that it's the Apple App Store, not the PS3 Network where 12 year olds kick and scream until their parents let them download the MGS1 DLC Pack for LittleBigPlanet for $1.99.

    If you hear DLC and you think "Oh, that must mean they're going to sell minimal games and then charge for every little piece of the full game and that's it" then it's a good thing you're not a game developer, because your customers would buy your games exactly once and be done with you. Now, I'm sure we'll see this happen to SOME extent, but people aren't stupid - we don't like screens littered with advertisements, we don't like paying by the minute (even though you can't DO that very well with micropayments - it's not auto-pay you know) if there is a similar application that is a one-time purchase, and if you want us to subscribe to something it better be freakin' phenomenal.

  • by Sowelu ( 713889 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @12:27PM (#28169491)
    I was really pissed when Bitpass went down. Sure, I only ended up using it for a few webcomics passes, but it sure was worth it, and I wish I'd had more to spend it on. I like the system. I like being able to buy things for a quarter. I don't think that this is going to unleash a horrible torrent of games that need micropayments, IE "Want an extra life? That'll be five cents". However I sure wouldn't mind returning to the old shareware model where the next three episodes of Wolfenstein or whatever costs a small amount.

    As long as my micropayments go toward something semi-permanent (more levels) instead of something transient (an extra life), I'm totally cool with it--and I'm also cool with other people liking the transient stuff. There's not enough ways to pay small amounts of money for things that are worth small amounts of money, so this sounds good to me. I'll always have my choice to play games that just don't use that feature anyway.

    ...Of course, I don't even HAVE an iPhone, but I like this on principle...
  • by davester666 ( 731373 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @12:29PM (#28169517) Journal

    "That's why you can't buy new books in Amazon's Kindle app; you have to close it and open Safari."

    Um, no. The current TOS doesn't permit Amazon to include purchasing functionality in their application (that and there currently is no microtransaction API for Amazon to call).

    Going forward, Amazon is also more likely to want the whole pie, instead of having to share 30% of it with Apple, particularly if another article I read is true, where Amazon is paying the publisher a percentage of the MSRP while charging the customer a lower price...

  • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @12:30PM (#28169521) Journal

    Then as a gamer, if you liked it you could buy the rest of the game... or perhaps mid game you could decide the level design had gone to pot and buy no more.

    Sounds great in theory... but in practice, I'd hate it. Nothing like ruining a sense of accomplishment by forcing the player to add cash to continue. Paying $X for extra lives makes more sense... just like most coin-op videogames.

    If micropayments HAVE to be done, then they need to be done gracefully. For games, I'd love to hear from some Korean gamers who have been getting hit by the micropayment hammer for a while now... what is their take on it?

    I think, so far, most people have gotten used to paying for access to content (via ISP), but not actually paying for the content online. This is a recurring issue re: micropayments, re: paywalls, etc. At some point we all have to realize that all this content is not free to produce, and we might have to start paying for it, like it or not.

    I know that I, personally, will change my browsing/app habits to minimize cost... and the web as we know it will go the way of the dodo.

  • Re:Positive? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TinBromide ( 921574 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @01:01PM (#28169927)

    why are you withholding it from my 'Motherboard' which I purchased?

    Because its a motherboard, not ram, and I don't ever remember ram coming standard with individual motherboards from ASUS, DFI, or Gigabyte (or other makers), ever. Bad analogy, try again.

    Here I was thinking that because games had a fixed price ($50 or $60USD) and gamers had a fixed amount of money to spend, they might try to get the most value for their buck. If a sizable portion of a game's design budget goes into content that isn't part of the release or cost of the game, why pay full price for that game? (Yes, most console games that release DLC still cost $60, and the budget that goes into the making of that DLC comes from the pool of sales, its not like they set aside the marketplace profits soley for the creation of paid DLC).

    While yes, I am aware that expecting a company to try to please its consumers can be construed as entitlement, once upon a time, if something was developed for a game by the devs and they could fit it in, they tried to put it in, or released it later with a patch (Like multiplayer maps for quake 2). Unlike your bad Mobo/ram analogy, once upon a time, the $50 cost of admission was (and in some cases, like the orange box, still is) enough to cover everything that was created for a game that was polished, rather than having to charge for [1up.com] simply because someone says they have to.

    If the devs say that they've moved on after release and don't want to release anything new, that's cool too, I'm not expecting companies to better their product after release, just not knee-cap it prior to release.

    By the way, I know that nobody is forcing me to buy DLC, and in a lot of cases, I don't, but in halo 3, its getting harder to play online because I don't have all the new paid content, so the value of my game is decreasing because I refuse to pay its upkeep (being the flashing name in a party with the text "The following players do not have the content required" gets old). So while they're not "forcing" me to pay more, it would be nice if they didn't rub my nose in it and heavily imply that if I wanted to continue to enjoy the game fully and not be a party pariah, I should fork out more money.

  • MMOs make you pay regardless of if you play or not, after you sign up.

  • Re:Huh. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mattwarden ( 699984 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @01:40PM (#28170381)

    > but it's not a positive development for the consumer no matter how you slice it.

    Hey, you said that very definitively, so it must be true. And I agree with you. I'm tired of the "business types" trying to make money off me. Just give me everything I want for free, already. Is it that hard???

    Well, just playing devil's advocate here, let's consider whether micropayments really a logical step to make the Internet better for consumers. Contrary to popular belief on the left side of things, the payment of goods is not a way for rich people to become richer, it's a way for consumers to get what they want. Without payment for goods, there is no signal to business about what items consumers demand and what items consumers don't want, and by how much consumers demand A over B, and how much producers should be willing to spend on the creation of both A and B.

    Micropayments are difficult to pull off logistically, but the bottom line is that eventually content will be price-differentiated. You will pay for better content. There will be plenty of content for free. Surprisingly to many people, this is not a new model... see radio, television, books, magazines, newsletters, and pretty much everything else.

  • by redJag ( 662818 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @02:30PM (#28171043)
    On the flip side, they don't usually charge you when you DO die :) Other than in-game penalties, that is (which could be argued to translate to real life dollars, time is money, blah blah freakin' blah!).
  • by mdwh2 ( 535323 ) on Monday June 01, 2009 @04:01PM (#28172597) Journal

    Not sure why you were modded troll - it's got worse than daily now, in that there are two Iphone stories on the front page today that are nothing more than rumour or speculation, and a third story that probably wouldn't have been worth covering if it wasn't for the Iphone connection.

    sLashdot - iPhone rUmours fOr nErds, sTuff tHat dOesn't mAtter?

    Incidentally, I recently used my Motorola V980 to access a website - I'll have to submit a news story, as that's obviously news worthy, right.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 01, 2009 @04:02PM (#28172617)

    Whereas arcade games are designed to make you die a lot. Time Crisis, anyone?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 01, 2009 @04:50PM (#28173421)
    He was referring to people who sign up, and get busy and forget to play but do not suspend the account. In that case, you are paying for the game even when you are not playing. Obviously when you cancel the account or use the pre-paid time cards you are not charged when you don't play. Normally when you play WoW, you do not "pay for the months you want to play" unless you are constantly enabling and disabling your account. In that sense, arcade games are quite different than MMORPGs where as soon as you walk away from the game, you aren't paying anymore.

Thus mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true. -- Bertrand Russell