No one really likes in-app purchases, do they? Sure, sometimes the flexibility is great when they’re done well, but far too often it all feels a bit cynically done and to the detriment of the player’s bank balance. How good would it be to have a new system that aims to make things much clearer and much fairer? That’s the idea behind Play Nice, a system set up by UK-based developer, Strange Flavour, and set to be a particularly eye catching part of their forthcoming game, Any Landing.
We had a chat with CEO and Lead Coder, Aaron Fothergill, to learn more.
148apps: How did the idea for Play Nice come about? Aaron Fothergill (AF): We dipped our toes in the freemium games market a few years ago with the free version of Flick Fishing, which went on to earn far more than the paid version had when it was at the top of the iPhone games chart, so it was pretty obvious to us just how profitable freemium could be. The problem was, we also saw some of the crazy side of freemium and noticed a trend in other games that was causing the press to start kicking up stories about games designers “deliberately targeting children” or “iPhone gamer gets sudden $3000 bill” and so on.
As with a lot of other game designers, our initial thought was that it’s really a parenting issue. The controls are in place to restrict your children from auto-buying consumable content and Apple even tells you to set the parental controls. However as the issue grew, we realized that we weren’t thinking the ‘Apple way’. Rather than the industry needing to teach players how to work their phones. If we don’t want players to accidentally run up huge bills while still having the benefits of consumable IAP, we need to redesign how we use consumable IAP to suit the way they play.
From that, we first thought of a simple cap, but realized there were issues with that and the way IAP works and then developed it into what we’ve now got for Play Nice where we can set an upper limit we think is a fair amount players can spend on the game, but where any consumable purchases up to that point are actually deducted from the top price, so you don’t lose anything by trying a consumable item first. (Actually, because of the way the IAP system works, you actually save a few pennies by buying the consumables first)
A work in progress example of how the Play Nice system works.
148apps: How long has the system been in development for? AF: On and off for about a year, mostly using our upcoming Any Landing game as a testbed. It was planned for release in June originally, but then I went to WWDC and saw a lot of shiny new code things I wanted to play with and of course that took us back a few more months.
148apps: What challenges have you guys faced in its implementation? AF: The biggest challenge was working out a way to use the current iOS IAP system to get the specific effect we want in a way that’s not confusing to players (the whole point is that it’s meant to be transparent and fair) and not cause issues in approval.
The other issue is actually in balancing the game itself, as when you’ve bought the ‘full’ IAP package, that effectively gives you whatever power ups you want and would drastically change the game’s balance. So a lot of time has gone into making sure that it actually works well as a game.
148apps: Are you concerned about there being any difficulties getting through Apple’s Approval process? AF: We are. The method is a bit of a jumble under the hood and while it’s not doing anything technically bad as far as Apple’s rules are concerned it could look like it’s trying to abuse the system. Because of that I’ve kept Apple support in the loop to check we’re not doing anything that could be construed as dodgy. It still has to go through approval of course, but we’ve done quite a few unusual new features in the past on iOS, so I’m confident that we can keep everything within the rules.
A work in progress screenshot of Any Landing.
148apps: Will the Play Nice system be opened up to other companies interested in doing things differently from the standard in-app purchase way, or will this be a solely in-house endeavor? AF: This is one feature I’d actually be quite happy if other devs copied it. Once the actual workings of it are out there, it’s pretty obvious (if slightly fun to implement) so we’d be happy if other devs wanted to give it a go.
148apps: What’s your opinion of the conventional in-app purchase system? Are there any titles that you think use it well or particularly badly? AF: In itself, it’s a useful system. There’s a lot of confusion about IAP, especially about consumable IAP (which is the one that is easiest to abuse) and non consumable. For instance, if you wanted to do a ‘shareware’ type game on iOS where you unlock the rest of the game after playing demo levels, that’s entirely practical with a non consumable IAP item. (the only rule is you aren’t allowed to call anything a demo, as Apple doesn’t allow demos on the App Store).
What consumable IAP does well (and where Play Nice aims to improve) is it lets you design a game where the skilled players who like to put a lot of time into their gaming can play through the entire game without paying for anything extra to speed the game up or make it easier, but players who really want to play the game but can’t afford as much time, or aren’t quite as skilled, can purchase upgrades to adapt the game to the way they want to play. This is one reason why freemium is so successful. It doesn’t pitch one game at everyone with specific skill levels and free time, it allows players to choose how they want the game to play. Two of my favorite examples of this are The Blockheads (by Majic Jungle Software) and Nimble Quest (by Nimblebit) which both have an optional non consumable purchase that effectively doubles how fast you play (in The Blockheads it halves the time everything takes to craft and in Nimble Quest it adds red gems that effectively double the rate you collect gems). Both use consumable IAP in a reasonable and entirely optional way that doesn’t force itself on you.
The abusive part is where games focus entirely on being nearly impossible (or actually impossible) to play unless you keep spending money on consumable IAP. They’re effectively targeted at the same people that would be spending a fortune on gambling games, i.e. children and the surprising number of people with compulsive issues.
Any Landing work in progress screenshot.
148apps: Do you think the freemium model is here to stay? AF: Absolutely. Developers can’t make a living on just the paid model and the big developers are making a lot of money on freemium. There’s nothing actually wrong with IAP itself (or freemium for that matter), but some publishers are really going to have to be careful to balance making crazy amounts of money with the risk destroying the system that makes all that money by triggering potential legislation that restricts or bans it if it’s seen as too abusive.
The Play Nice concept has certainly piqued our interest. Anything that helps make things clearer for gamers has to be a good thing. We’ll be keeping a close eye on Strange Flavour’s work and Any Landing’s progress. Thanks to Aaron for taking the time to answer our questions.
In the 18 year life of Freeverse, it developed nearly 100 Mac and iOS apps. Purchased by ngmoco:) in 2010, the Freeverse founders recently left the company to pursue other opportunities. We talk with co-founder Colin Smith about Freeverse and the App Store.
148Apps: How has the App Store changed your life?
Colin Smith, Original Co-Founder of Freeverse: Freeverse had been a boot-strapped Mac game developer and publisher, pretty well-known among Mac folk, but largely ignored in the larger games industry.
We had a booth at MacWorld where the iPhone was announced and a front-row seat when the world changed. Certainly ours did.
With our long history with Apple and familiarity with its culture, aesthetic and tool-sets, we were perfectly positioned to have titles ready when the App Store was announced. MotoChaser was a launch title at $9.99 on Day 1 of the App Store.
We had multiple #1 hits over the next couple of years, including Flick Fishing, and Skee-Ball. And suddenly the larger games industry was starting to wake up to the potential of the iPhone and the companies producing the best titles for it.
We were acquired by ngmoco in 2010, and shortly thereafter, they were acquired by DeNA.
So the App Store took us from a backwater developer and put us at the very leading edge of the industry as it has been utterly transformed. The touch disruption, the mobile disruption, the Free-To-Play disruption. We lived all of that.
I personally got to see the inner workings of an aggressive venture-backed start-up in ngmoco, and a multi-billion dollar publicly traded Japanese corporation in DeNA. I learned so much that I could never have learned any other way.
Freeverse as an entity ultimately didn’t survive all those upheavals and acquisitions, but I think and hope that some of our own culture lives on in the guys who worked for us, and their connections with each other. We were a special place, with truly special people.
148Apps: If you have one single success within Freeverse you’d like to
highlight from the past five years on the App Store, what would it be?
Colin Smith: I think the work we did with Strange Flavour on Flick Fishing. The game is still remarkably fun, and still sells well. Those guys really nailed the fun that touch and the accelerometer could bring a title when used smartly rather than gratuitously. I still love spotting someone on the subway casting their line.
148Apps: In the five years since launch, the App Store has gone through considerable changes. The number of users has skyrocketed along with downloads, prices for paid apps has stabilized way lower than many expected, free to play has dominated the top grossing charts. If, knowing what you know about the App Store now, you could go back and influence the path of Freeverse five years ago, what would you say?
Colin Smith:Yes, we saw our games go from $10 to $1 within a matter of weeks. And ngmoco saw Free-to-Play was coming very early and convinced us as well, which was a major factor in our decision to sell when we did. It was so counter-intuitive at the time that “free” was more lucrative than “paid.”
There’s a lot we might have done differently, but really, I think I’d just want to make better, smarter, and cooler apps if I could go back 5 years. I’ve learned so much about design, the market, how people play on mobile, a thousand little things. I think we all have.
148Apps: What have you seen on the App Store, outside of Freeverse, that has
surprised you most?
Colin Smith: The Line, WeChat, WhatsApp stuff is really fascinating to watch. I’m curious where that’s headed.
148Apps:Any predictions for what the App Store will be like five years from now?
Colin Smith: The beauty of the App Store is that its such a great platform for disruption. Back in the day we had to print CDs and boxes and warehouse them and ship them to Apple Stores to get them on the shelf, and then maybe sell a few copies for $40 a piece.
Now you can give an app away, or sell it for $.99 and (if you’re lucky or good), get millions of users all across the globe almost instantly. It has just accelerated the pace of innovation tremendously. So I’m excited to see what comes next, and wouldn’t even try to predict!
Minigore, a dual-stick survival shooter, has finally been released onto the App Store after weeks of intense hype and anticipation. So what was all the hype about? Honestly, I don’t know. Compared with its survival shooter kin, iDracula (App Info), Minigore is as shallow as a puddle. It has one map, two weapons, four enemy types, and two health points. It definitely has a unique art style going for it, but beyond that, not too much. There seems to be some sort of story, and while it is never even touched on, there will apparently be Pocket God-style episodic updates. I’m sorry, but I don’t like this approach unless it’s done with a complete game. Minigore is clearly not a complete game, and I’m tired of getting incomplete games with promises of updates that aren’t always fulfilled. There seems to be a bit of a logjam cycle going on with apps nowadays – developers won’t add to their apps unless they do well in the App Store, but consumers don’t want to pay for an incomplete app. But hey, it worked for Pocket God (App Info); it went from being a boring, mindless, stupid time waster to a… boring, mindless, stupid time waster. But seriously, Minigore is not a bad game, just an average one that without a bevy of substantial updates is undeserving of the immense hype that preceding it.
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Released: 2009-07-30 :: Category: Games
Freeverse joins ngmoco’s Plus+ network
As I touched on last week, there is an emerging social game network competition on the App Store. And, as I loosely predicted (thank you, thank you), ngmoco’s Plus+ network has taken the lead. Freeverse, who may not be my favorite developer but is certainly among the most popular and has a large volume of games, has announced that they will be implementing the Plus+ network in their upcoming action space trader Warpgate, their incredibly popular Flick Fishing (App Info), and presumably more upcoming games. Having two of the premiere App Store developers certainly bolsters Plus+, and could induce a chain reaction of developers braking for Plus+. At this point, OpenFeint may be implemented in more games, but that catalog is very scattered, not all of those games are exactly quality controlled, and some apps were clearly not made for OpenFeint (have you ever tried to go into a Pocket God chat room?). I’m definitely putting my money on Plus+ for now.
From the developer of Trace – Gomi submitted
Bovine Dragon has finally submitted their new game, Gomi, to the App Store. Gomi appears to be a platforming game in which you, as a Gomi, replace the pollution in the world with trees and other natural things. The artwork is certainly unique, and the gameplay looks good, but perhaps the most impressive thing about Gomi is the staggering amount of content. Gomi will have over 140 stages, each lasting several minutes, spread across 8 worlds, with a boss battle for each world that unlocks a new ability. There are also 8 unique mini-games, hundreds of achievements, hundreds of playable Gomis, a complete soundtrack of 17 songs, and online scoreboards for everything. Wow, talk about a complete game! The developer estimates that playing through each stage once, without trying to unlock any achievements
or playing any mini-games, will take over 12 hours. The price for a game of this size? Reportedly just $1.99 upon release. This looks to be an incredible value and if the production values and unique gameplay of Trace (App Info) were any indication, Gomi should be an incredible game.
This week’s sign of the apocalypse
Locating sex offenders will be rendered pointless when the ENTIRE WORLD IS DESTROYED!
Offender Locator (App Info), an app that locates nearby sex offenders, is currently sitting at #4 overall in the App Store. First of all, are people really that paranoid? And second, if you do find an offender in your area, what are you going to do? Move away? Complain to your neighborhood police patrol? Set up barricades? No, you are just going to be more worried than you were before.
App of the week
So normally, I would list more than one app of the week, but this week, there is basically only one app deserving of the honor, only one game I have been playing all week:
Space Invaders Infinity Gene
I have to admit, after seeing SIIG appear on the App Store, I was skeptical. After all, how fun can a remake of Space Invaders be? It might be fun, but for $4.99? I figured they just slapped some neon backgrounds on the old tried and true gameplay. Well, after reading the 148apps review, I decided to buy the game, and, happily, I was utterly, completely, and unequivocally wrong. TAITO brings a shining example of how to remake retro games for the App Store. The graphics are fantastic, the action is frantic and heart-pounding, the music is techno bliss, and the controls are perfect. The evolution concept and implementation is fantastic, with unlockables aplenty. And on top of all of this, there is the ridiculously awesome ability to generate completely original levels based on your iPod music. I really need some good songs for this mode, so if anyone has any suggestions, post away! This isn’t just a great App Store shooter, this is a great shooter period. Probably in my top three iPhone games ever, and at $4.99, if you’ve ever enjoyed a shooter, you owe it to yourself to buy this game.
One of the big features for iPhone OS 3.0 is in-app purchasing. The feature allows you to buy expansion packs for games and applications while in the application. It’s a way to extend the game a little while not requiring you to purchase a whole new application.
Now that 3.0 has gone live, we’ve got first looks at a couple games that have been upgraded to take advantage of these features.
Flick Fishing from Freeverse
Freeverse have launched an updated to Flick Fishing today that takes advantage of in app purchasing by allowing you to buy a new level called Private Island for $0.99. This island adds both a new location to fish in the game along with some new fish and a new game mode, Fish Jack.
One thing that is interesting is that the Flick Fishing app is currently $0.99 itself. Unfortunately developers can’t offer in-app purchasing for less than $0.99. It has to be the same price points as apps in the app store ($0.99 – $999.99, in increments of $1.00). Another requirement is that the apps that utilize in-app purchasing must be paid apps — free apps can not offer in-app purchasing.
Enigmo from Pangea Software
Pangea has updated Enigmo to allow you to purchase level packs directly in the game. The expands their previous offering that allowed you to download user-created level packs. Currently available are 2 different kids level packs that are specifically designed simple levels for kids. Each of the 2 packs contains 25 new levels and costs $0.99.
One special feature that Enigmo exposes right on the level purchase screen is the ability to restore previous purchases. This requirement from Apple is a fairly recent development. Apple has told developers that they need to provide a way for users to get back anything they have purchased in-app in case of data loss. In other words if you purchase something in the app and your phone needs to be restored, there needs to be a way for you to get back the items that you purchased. It will be interesting to see how different developers handle this requirement.
I think we’ll quickly see lots of games add options for in-app purchasing. While these two games have done it correctly, we’ll see lots of developers do it the wrong way — provide too little value for the money. While developers are trying to increase revenue in an app store with slowly dropping prices, consumers used to those lower prices are going to be hesitant to make in app purchases without a great incentive to buy.