Since the early days of the App Store, users have gotten used to a two tiered app distribution model: the paid version which comes at a cost, but comes with a full range of features, and the free/lite version, which comes with a limited set of features, but comes as a free download. This model is in part thanks to the inability of apps to offer in-app purchases before iOS 3.0 was released, so Lite versions couldn’t offer upgrades to full versions. Although developers and publishers have had the ability to offer a single version of games that are unlocked via a purchase in-app, no major release has dared to try to change up the working model, until now.
Gameloft’s new Zelda-inspired fantasy action/RPG game Sacred Odyssey: Rise of Ayden is being released to the App Store as a free download. The game, compatible with 3rd generation and up devices, gives you a small taste of the game before requiring you to pay $6.99 to unlock the full game in-app. Very few apps have tried the same trick so far – Time Crisis 2nd Strike HD, Astronut, and Tilt to Live HD being notable examples. This kind of model makes sense, theoretically – instead of confusing users by splitting the game into two different SKUs on the App Store, and making users go download a completely different app if they want to upgrade, you let them easily upgrade from a transaction in the app itself.
The problem is if users will be willing to adjust to this new model that Gameloft is trying out. Gameloft is likely hoping that more people buy the game given that they can try the game out for no cost. However, will the in-app purchase model to unlock the full game confuse too many people, who are used to the free/lite model? Will the barrage of one-star reviews that Gameloft is likely to get from users who feel like they’re being deceived by the in-app purchase to download the full game? This is a curious gambit from Gameloft, and it will be interesting to see how users react to it, and if future releases adopt a similar pricing model or not. If this is a success, this could be a potential sea change in the release structure of games on the App Store, or it could potentially doom the concept.