Posts Tagged editorial

Are you angry about the new Comixology app, which removes the ability to buy comics from inside the app itself? If so, you should be just as angry at Apple for their policies making such an absurd situation, where an app can offer the ability to consume the content it sells without actually selling it, as much as you are at Comixology/Amazon for inconveniencing you.

Comixology-MoreBooksThe economics for the change are clear: they were giving 30% of every sale to Apple, as per App Store policies. That’s the way it’s been since the App Store opened – every time money changes hands, Apple takes its 30% cut. When in-app purchases were introduced, Apple kept the rate per transaction the same: 30% on everything. Thus, when Comixology sold a comic for $3.99, they only got ~$2.80 from it, for a book they had to sell for the same price on their site, by Apple policies.

It’s likely that this 30% cut hurt Comixology’s bottom line – they are beholden to a number of outside forces and right holders for the comics they sell – and the move to Amazon apparently provided them the opportunity to change their selling model.

For years, Comixology's "Comics" app was one of the top grossing apps on the App Store - especially on the iPad. Source: AppAnnie</a<

For years, Comixology’s Comics app was one of the top grossing apps on the App Store – especially on the iPad. Source: AppAnnie

So, that 30% fee on transactions that Apple takes is problematically high. Certainly, it can be justified for paid apps: Apple provides approval, storage, bandwidth, tax collection, and a variety of services beyond just taking the money, in order to justify taking such a cut of a developer’s revenue.

But for in-app purchases, Apple is serving as little more than a payment processor, though they do track whether non-consumable IAP is owned by the user. And 30% is exorbitantly high for payment processing. PayPal merchant fees are 2.9% plus $0.30 per transaction. Amazon charges the same for transactions $10 or above, with a 5% + $0.05 per order for smaller transactions. These aren’t counting the bulk volume discounts that these processors provide.

You could go to your local comics shop or to a vendor at a convention, and using a Square credit card reader, they can sell you that comic at a 2.75% per swipe fee. So what right does Apple have to be taking 30% on a similar transaction? I think they should be allowed to take a reasonable premium on top of payment processing for the App Store services they provide, but it’s clear that 30% is unreasonable, especially for low-margin fields like the sale of music, movies, and comic books.

And because Apple specifically restricts outside payment systems, there’s no recourse for anyone who wants to offer media or subscription services through an app but to not sell said services in the app itself. It’s why you can’t buy a Netflix, Spotify, or Dropbox subscription from inside their apps at all – because Apple can’t take their steep tax.

Apps like Kindle have to sidestep just why they can't actually sell you books in the app itself

Apps like Kindle have to sidestep just why they can’t actually sell you books in the app itself

Why would Apple, a seemingly pro-consumer company in the way that they design their products to be easy to use, do this? Well, they’re not actually a pro-consumer company. They’re a pro-Apple-consumer company. Everything they do is designed explicitly to get you to stay with Apple products. Ever thought about getting an Android or Windows Phone but decided not to because you didn’t want to lose iMessage? Exactly.

Remember that Apple sells music, video, and books of their own (though not comics to the scale that Comixology does); they have a weighted incentive to make it hard for outside sources to provide them on the App Store unless they pay the exorbitant 30% fee. And when people are inconvenienced by app makers because of Apple’s policies they get mad at the app maker, not Apple, which has to cause a chill to run up the spine of anyone struggling with a similar decision as Comixology.

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Google has a similar setup with in-app purchases where they take 30% of every transaction, but they provide alternatives. Specifically, they have a policy that enables Comixology to still sell comics through their app through their own payment system: “Developers offering additional content, services or functionality within another category of app downloaded from Google Play must use Google Play’s in-app billing service as the method of payment, except: where payment is for digital content or goods that may be consumed outside of the app itself (e.g., buying songs that can be played on other music players).”

Thus, Android Comixology users can still buy comics through the app. Those who relied on Google Play credit to buy books will find themselves out of luck. Of course, Google doesn’t have a monopoly over content distribution or an interest on keeping people as tied to Google Play and their own services, but it’s still a better way to operate than the monopolistic way that Apple does. The 30% payment processor fee for in-app purchases is still on the exorbitant side, but the nature of it is a lot more fair.

So, what Apple ultimately has is a situation that’s meant to give off the illusion of consumer-friendliness by making it only possible to spend money through iTunes accounts, when it really restricts the freedom that people have to get the content they want, where they want it from.

If a solution that’s actually friendly to users (and not just to those who buy in to the Apple system) is to happen, it’s going to require public pressure. They could enact the exact same policy that Google Play has, for one. This same policy is the one that allows Starbucks to allow for store credit refills through direct credit card or PayPal payments. It just needs to be expanded to cross-platform media so that users don’t get left out in the cold, or compelled to buy from Apple’s stores. Give them actual choice.

Or Apple needs to make their tax on in-app purchases – these purely digital transactions – a smaller fee, in order for it to be viable for sellers in high-margin transactions involving media. Somewhere from 5 to 10% may be more reasonable than the current 30%. Whatever the solution I believe change needs to happen, because right now, the ultimate loser from Apple policies are ordinary people who have had convenience taken away from them because of corporate politics.

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PopCapLogoIn an age where developers are micro-transacting their consumers beyond belief, it is refreshing to hear of the occasional development team willing to take a stand against it. In the most recent example, the financial relief comes from the good folks over PopCap Games. Their most substantial iOS offering to date, Plants vs. Zombies 2, made the unexpected move to free-to-play – much to the chagrin of their audience. Oddly enough, that shift may have actually been the best thing to happen to cash-strapped gamers in recent memory. So how can studios go against the monetization grain and still manage to sustain a profit? A simple change of perspective can go a long way.

Traditionally in-app purchases within free games were viewed under the microscope of paying a cost in order to either continue playing, or unlock an item that will make an unbeatable adversary more manageable. Essentially it boils down to being a pay-to-win structure. In either scenario there is a wide spread negative connotation associated with purchases, drowning in a bubbling cauldron of frustration and anger. When the main motivation behind opening a wallet is to make something that is undesirable cease happening, it feels more like being held hostage than acquiring something beneficial. It might even be fair to say that this is likely the reason that so many folks look down their nose at free-to-play titles.

While working on Plants vs. Zombies 2, the team over at PopCap hit on the discovery that purchases could actually be driven by positivity instead. For example: certain special crops are made available exclusively for purchase with cash through the in-game store. These seeds may be overpowered for a short period, and slightly flashier in terms of presentation, but over time the items that are unlocked simply by continuing to progress through the campaign will end up being just as useful, if not more so. Also, players have the chance to pay to unlock new worlds if they are uninterested in playing through the additional stage permutations in order to clear obstacles the “good old fashioned way.”

PvZ2PurchasesThe main differentiation is that these acquisitions are completely unnecessary in order to move through the game. In reality they act as more a shortcut for those that don’t have the fortitude of the multitude. Under most circumstances there are only positive underlying motivations associated these purchases; primarily consisting of the desire to play more of a game that they already love, which most will gladly do with a smile. After all, people are far more willing to part with their precious greenbacks when they feel like there’s a tangible reward on the other side of a transaction.

PopCap, along with a select handful of other developers, may have finally cracked the nut that the industry has been trying to shell for years. Here’s to hoping that more will pay close attention and make efforts to follow suit. Who knew that future of mobile gaming could be forever transformed, all thanks to a slight shift of perspective?

When Deus Ex: The Fall was announced as a mobile title, the reaction could be clearly delineated into two camps: mobile gamers intrigued by this deep franchise making its way to mobile, and by ‘core’ gamers who were outraged that a new Deus Ex game wouldn’t be coming to consoles and PC. As if it had to. As if they had a right to it. As if it was somehow a lesser product for being a mobile game.

Deus Ex The Fall Logo Small

Make no mistake, mobile gaming is still not fully accepted by gamers. It’s a big deal, and those who have had fun with the countless number of creative titles of various scales from all walks of life will know that a fun game is a fun game no matter what platform it’s on. But there’s still a mindset that mobile gaming is still a lesser form of gaming, and the reaction to Deus Ex: The Fall exposes this ugly truth.

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But what is it about this game that makes people so hostile to the very idea of mobile gamers getting a console-quality title on the go? Was it a presumption that since a new Deus Ex title was announced, it had to be for consoles? Still, the disappointment seemed especially amplified in this circumstance. It wasn’t just the garden-variety internet trolls who compalin loudly, though: it was high-profile outlets like IGN and even Penny Arcade Report were disappointed. PAR strives for a higher class of gaming coverage, so this still seems uncharacteristic of them.

What IGN's announcement article said before it was changed.

What IGN’s announcement article said before it was changed.

IGN’s staffer who wrote the subheadline disparaging mobile, a particular insult to IGN’s own mobile coverage, which has been running since back in the days of flip phones. The mobile editor actually changed the headline a day later. Still, whlie they may have a section dedicated to mobile coverage, there’s still clearly a mindset that it’s something negative.

10757DXTF_Announce online screen 1

Despite all the great experiences on mobile devices, in genres both familiar and new, still there is disrespect. is just unfair. The people that make these games are gamers, often long-time ones. I’ve spoken to many of them. The App Store has provided new opportunities that just weren’t there before. I write about mobile games, but I’ve been a gamer for almost my whole life. Mobile games are legitimate games. That the games are using new interfaces doesn’t make them any less so.

10771E3 online screen 5

The irony is that a game like Deus Ex: The Fall is exactly what will legitimize the platform: this is a deep game that’s being released for touchscreen devices. It’s not perfect – it uses the flawed dual virtual stick control method along with touchscreen interface elements, but everything about the game sounds like it will live up to what the series has been known for, just in a smaller, more mobile-friendly package. This promises to be a legitimate Deus Ex experience that can be played while waiting for the bus.

10766E3 online E3 screen 6

And while this may be coming a bit early, mobile gaming getting the ‘legitimacy’ of controllers and TV gaming is not far away. Apple just approved a controller standard, and there’s million of AirPlay-compatible Apple TV devices. On the Android side, where gamepads are already supported, consoles are already making their way out. There’s Ouya, GameStick, GamePop, and a million more.

Apple's reference specification for iOS 7 gamepads. Will this be good enough for games like Deus Ex: The Fall for the skeptical? (via Pocket Gamer)

Apple’s reference specification for iOS 7 gamepads. Will this be good enough for games like Deus Ex: The Fall for the skeptical? (via Pocket Gamer)

Because if just the presence of Deus Ex on mobile isn’t enough, what will be for those who still disrespect mobile?

So for the gamers who still disparage mobile, I say this: give it a chance. Don’t be mad that the new Deus Ex is going to be on mobile. Be glad that a new version is coming out, and that a wider audience will be able to experience it. And give mobile gaming a fair shake. It’s not all Candy Crush Saga; there are a lot of fun experiences out there in pretty much every genre under the sun. Games are games. Come enjoy these, and let go of your hate!

Note: Forgive us, this article isn’t something that we would normally publish. But last week was not an ordinary week. We’re still trying to adapt to it all.

I’ve started to refer to this moment during Tuesday’s special event as the Schiller sigh. The first time I noticed it, it seemed like a very odd reaction. But we now know it was a moment of true emotion escaping in a very important presentation. With hindsight I understand the reaction and the strong emotion behind it, and it speaks volumes. Take a look at the video below, if you missed it during the presentation.

That reaction has haunted me ever since noticing it upon re-watching the special event stream. This week has been a very emotional week and after noticing Phil Schiller’s reaction, I could not get it out of my head.

Was that a sigh and did he look sad right after announcing the new flagship iOS phone? He should be really proud after announcing a new product. People should see in your face and reaction how great the product is and how proud of it you are. But no, that was a sigh, and a very sad face.

Initially I thought that perhaps Phil didn’t like the iPhone 4S or name. Then I quickly realized it wasn’t the name but the fact that he was up there announcing it. A product who’s real creator could not be up there to announce it himself. Only the next day did we understand exactly why.

That was just a single moment in the middle of a very subdued presentation. Not the traditional Apple presentation we are used to. Phil let his emotions tell what, out of respect to the family, he couldn’t say with words. The life of a great man, the one whom everyone in that room admired and respected, was coming to an end. The executive team knew it. They went on with the event, most likely because Steve expected them to. They were all very professional, but the emotional toll on the presenters was evident.

Looking back, they held up amazingly well. I can not imagine how tough it must have been to be up there. But they are professionals who knew that Steve would be watching and expect nothing less from them. And the products announced, which Steve was responsible for, deserved it.

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An empty seat that can never be filled. Reserved last week at the iPhone 4S announcement.

Grinding our way through the latest iOS genre darling, Freemium games, is becoming somewhat of a turn off. There may or may not be a backlash to the developers or their games, but I’m feeling a definite slacking off in my interest in these types of games.

First off, let’s be clear on what freemium even means. Wikipedia defines the term as ” a business model that works by offering a basic product or service free of charge (such as software, web services or other) while charging a premium for advanced features, functionality, or related products and services.”

In the iOS app world, and more specifically, the gaming app world, Freemium has been hailed as the next big thing for companies wishing to make money. Some developers I spoke with at GDC seemed to think that the entirety of the iOS gaming market was going to a Fremium model, though I tend to agree with Tracy Erickson over at Pocket Gamer, who posits that Freemium games will continue to be a successful niche of the gaming market, and not be the whole of iOS gaming’s future.

Rather than repeat what better minds have already covered, I’d like to focus on the consumer end of the equation. As an avid gamer across all platforms, I’ve seen my share of games. And, to be honest, Freemium as a business model doesn’t inspire me to play a game. The ephemeral “fun” factor is, however, something that motivates me. I’m assuming it will motivate other players as well.

Many of these games seem to be about the mechanics alone. This is the Freemium Grind. Farmville is the grandame of Freemium gaming, of course, and the Freemium Grind mechanic is fairly transparent: build a farm, grow stuff on the farm, sell said items, gather in-game currency, and start the cycle again. Added into this mix are some social reciprocity (I’ll give you a gift so you will give me a gift), and some pride in place (this is my farm, there are many like it but this one is my own). Other games that fall in this category include Smurf’s Village, any of the Story games, Mafia Wars, We Rule, etc. There are some other games that hide the basic mechanics behind some other mechanics, like Gun Bros, Pocket Frogs and Pocket Legends, to name a few.

What is it, though, about this mechanic that turns me off? The artificiality of it, for one thing, bugs me. When I invade in ZombieFarm, I have to wait another couple of hours before I can invade again. Or, of course, I can go ahead and purchase an upgrade for a invasion recharge. This isn’t fun. Another thing that bothers me is the continual reminders. I stopped playing We Rule and GodFinger mainly due to the constant notifications. I don’t need more things telling me that I have to take care of them. I have children and pets for that, thank you very much. I don’t want to feel obligated to launch a game – don’t we all have enough obligations in our lives?

When are we going to see a Freemium game that isn’t like this? Where’s the incredible gaming experience that is free or low cost to enter, but then offers thrilling and fun gaming experiences? Where’s the World Of Goo Freemium? The Rolando Freemium (oh, yeah, they couldn’t figure it out)? The Flight Control Freemium?

I’m sure there are smart developers out there. Making iOS apps is not for the intellectually challenged. I think, however, that we need a new star to step forward and not just take the Freemium model to the next logical step (hardcore freemium, music game freemium, shooter freemium, etc.) but to turn it on its head. To make a game that is TRULY a fantastic game, that is free to play, yet encourages folks to purchase in-game items. How do we do that? Is it possible? Some think it is, but I’m not holding my breath.

Like most difficult questions, I don’t believe this one has a definitive answer. We need the premium, buy once, play forever games as well as the free to play, mechanical freemium games as well. But we also need something new, if the freemium model isn’t to crush itself under its own weight and continued copy-cat-ism that reigns in the space. Who’s gonna step up? Will it be you? Let us know in the comments.

The Search for Satisfaction
Nobody really expected the App Store to be such an enormous success. There are currently over 41,000 apps in the store, and more than 12,000 publishers. (These stats come from our sister site, 148apps.biz.) Since its debut, the App Store has produced games that scorn typical expectations of “mobile gaming” and present polished, cheap entertainment in an easily accessible form. Apple has taken advantage of the iPod Touch and iPhone’s gaming abilities, and is pushing gaming apps in its ads. By all accounts, the iPhone is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the world of handheld gaming.

But while the App Store is booming, there’s a sad lack of real games in the App Store. I’m talking about games that draw you in with knotted narratives, games that you can really sink your teeth into. I’m talking about games that could make the folks over at Nintendo and Sony fret over the futures of their precious handheld consoles.

img_000620 Just look at the Top 100, and you’ll see what’s missing. At the time of writing, the #1 game is Stick Wars—a “good” game, perhaps, but hardly an overwhelming demonstration of the iPhone’s capabilities. The #1 free app is the “Urinal Test,” which speaks for itself; the #1 paid app overall is the Moron Test—that’s high-quality stuff right there. Two more examples: Doodle Jump and Flight Control are bestsellers that have met with both popular and critical acclaim, and for good reason; they’re wonderful casual titles. But their success is a testament to a marketplace that craves casual play, a marketplace where the cheapest often wins. iPod Touch and iPhone owners tend to buy games as if they were candy: sugary snacks that can be consumed mindlessly, and thrown away once the sweetness has been sapped. Those aren’t the kinds of games that will catapult the iPhone to true greatness as a gaming platform.

And that’s what we gamers would love, really. The diversionary games are wonderful, but serious gamers are still lusting after real games. Imagine a world where your PSP or DS has been made obsolete by your phone. That’s the world I want to be in; why carry two devices when you can have one? I want quality titles that will last more than a few hours. As a New York Times article lamented, “Those searching for a deep, meaningful, narrative-driven experience will generally have to
Continue reading Search For Satisfaction: the Lack of Full-Featured iPhone Games »

Note: the correct URL has been updated, it’s http://gotoats.org

A few weeks ago, I posted a short message about integrity. It was a post that came out of the frustration of working to develop a quality site with ethical editorial practices while there are other iPhone app review sites out there with some rather shady practices that, at times, seem to be doing better than 148Apps.

When discussing this frustration with other site publishers, an idea was hatched. How about a professional organization whose members publicly abide by a set of ethical editorial rules? How about we take an oath to abide by those ethics? And how about publishing that on a website for all to see? And what about coming up with a silly name?

That’s when the Organization for App Testing Standards (O.A.T.S.!) was born. With great help from Steve from SlideToPlay.com, Nigel from iPhone Games Network, and Superbad from The APPera, we have launched the O.A.T.S. organization and the got OATS? site.

The primary goal of O.A.T.S. is to define a set of ethical standards for app review sites. The truth is that many of the iPhone app review sites have little if any professional publishing exposure. While ethics are something we are all taught, many may need a little refresher course and some guidance when it specifically comes to publication.

O.A.T.S. is also a great way for app developers and publishers to see what sites agree to abide by this oath. Initially we’ve populated the site with the 4 sites that were in on the development of the oath. But we’re not being exclusive — we’d like all sites that are willing to take and abide by the oath to join in. Site publishers, see the site for more information on how to join.

While this micro-industry of iPhone app review sites is small right now, everyone knows that it will grow as the iPhone app store grows. And while we were one of the first iPhone App Review sites to launch, we know we will never be the biggest. We just want to be the best. And being ethical is one of the key points to that goal, I think.

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