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November 20, 2012


I just put the restriction on thanks

The Daily Show covered one of the apps that uses in-app purchases bought by naive kids:

I consider this business model unethical, and I would prefer if there were some legal ramifications for game developers who develop games that are purely meant to exploit people's tendencies for obsessive compulsive behavior.

For example, I know a guy who spent over $1000 on a "free to play" game because of an in-game gambling scheme (the game drops boxes for you with goodies inside, which you can only unlock by paying real cash for keys). The boxes could contain some nice goods, but they don't tell you the odds, unlike Vegas slots.

It's a real shame too because pretty soon ALL videogames will be going along with this exploitation model unless something is done to stop it. It's just too lucrative to exploit low-impulse-control people.

This points to something that is worth a blog post by someone.

I realize HS is trying to grapple with this by the "value transference" thing, but alot of supposedly legitimate business models today would have been considered straight-out scams thirty years ago. And they are really hard for middle class people to avoid without hermitting/ dropping down to the lower classes.

Wow, that's reminiscent of Facebook's privacy policy at one point in time, during an upgrade. To paraphrase - "Your private account information is set to public". For immediate mass value transfer of your valuable private data to paying advertisers. With "implied" consent.

The only game I have on my iPhone is Angry Birds, and it's not a scam at all. I've spent a total of $1.98 on it, and get new screens at no charge, all the time. I don't have any setting preventing me from purchasing anything in-app, and I've never been "scammed" into doing so by any app.

As for the prospect of a solo developer succeeding at games: it's possible, but probably unlikely for any "video game" type of game -- those are generally built by teams. But the iOS developer who build the first version of my app no longer does contract work, as one of his games (a word game) took off. Yes, his revenues were from in-app purchases, but they weren't a scam at all. The free version of his app offered a limited number of a certain type of puzzle, and the in-app purchase was for more of the same.

[HS: I don't disagree that there are a lot of honestly-priced games out there, but all of the TOP-GROSSING games use the in-app purchase scam. Angry Birds is the most famous iOS game, and maybe the most played, but it's NOT the most PROFITABLE right now based on whatever criteria Apple uses to make their list of top-grossing games.]

"There doesn’t seem to be much room here for an independent solo developer."

That is probably true. The biggest issue with apps has always been getting people to know about them. Once the app becomes popular enough, it can start to show up on the Top lists, but not right away. That generally costs money.

"And the idea of making money by tricking little kids into purchasing in-game crap within 15 minutes of the game being installed seems really icky to me."

Until shown otherwise I'm assuming these anecdotal stories of Johnny buying $100 gems within 15 minutes after mommy installed a free app for him are insignificant to the overall market.

Off Topic-- another (seemingly) prole Australian billionaire in the news. At least he's self-made...


Sadly the entire game industry seems to be moving in this direction. Big production AAA titles like Call of Duty can cost so much to produce that you have to sell A LOT of these at $40 a pop in the first month or so to make money back which means that companies are unwilling to invest in new IP.

On the other hand if you can get somebody hooked on your game for free and then keep pushing them to pay more money to move up to the next level you can make more money over the life of the game.

This is of course especially true of people with gaming addiction problems who behave like gambling addicts but they now have a way to make them keep paying money even without the chance of a winning a monetary payout.

You can expect more multiplayer games coming out where the only change you have of realistically winning is to invest your real world money into having better weapons than the next guy.

Think of it like a game of chess where at any point you can drop $1 to swap one of your pawns for a bishop.

The only game I've ever purchased is Angry Birds. I found Angry Birds and all of its sequels to be very good for the money ($1 each, and they constantly update for free). When it originally came out it didn't have any in game app purchases or any of the IRL stuff (like the plush toys). Still, even today the in game app purchases (basically cheats if you get frustrated with a level) are not really necessary.

They have gotten fancier over time, but the original angry birds didn't look all that complicated or expensive to produce. When I found out that the original Angry Birds had a production cost of around $100,000 I realized this kind of stuff was out of the reach of most middle class people (who can not work and has $100,000 laying around to take a low probability chance). Either you would already have a lot of money or you worked as a corporate cog most of your young live saving it up. It is out of reach of the broke young person.

The Star Wars version of Angry Birds is hilarious.

"And the idea of making money by tricking little kids into purchasing in-game crap within 15 minutes of the game being installed seems really icky to me. That’s value transference, not value creation." -- HS

That's the same kind of sleazy crap that banks, credit cards, mortgage, insurance companies, etc pull with their scams and hidden fees. I'm not against those business in theory. But in practice they have MBAs sitting around trying to brainstorm ways to sucker people out of their money.

A lot of people would lump people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet in with this value transference. I cant stand their elitists leftist crap but they're actually creating value. If nothing else, Buffet is making sure that productive companies can get the capital they need to be even more productive. Even though he isn't producing anything himself he's creating value by helping others to be more productive.

Weird, mine always asked me for my password before I bought an expansion pack. DLCs are pretty clunky in iOS, so as far as I know, in-app purchases are the only way to offer that option within the old app.

And, yeah, the pay2win games are huge money-makers, and wholly value transference. Zynga is one of the big ones; FarmVille, et al. are notorious for being useless time sinks.

You could make the case that all video games, and, indeed, entertainment, is value transference, but the extent would presumably differ by the characteristics of each game, movie, book, song, etc.

Yes, thanks for the heads-up. I'm getting my kid a smartphone for Christmas and it's good to be warned about stuff like this in advance.


Write a game that liberal parents are more likely to buy for their kids. In-app purchase "tolerance powerups" or whatever.

To the people talking about the difficulty to developing games solo because capital cost is still too high. You guys should check out newgrounds.com. Tons and tons of games have been made as hobby projects that have been done for free long before the existence of the iPhone. All of those are done for free.

Many of the games that are popular on the app market have been done with the same quality and mechanics (including Angry Birds) have been done years earlier as Flash games. Funny thing now is the games on Newgrounds are released for free and new ones are still being made (with a few exceptions of some creators that done some monietization after seeing the popularity) and the same type of games are being created with full on developer teams for smartphones and selling them at various prices.

In short, making a good game solo is possible without six figure funding and just paying with time and effort with assumption of knowledge of how to program that many here probably knows (and maybe drawing skills or a few thousands for someone to draw sprites).

Also many ideas can be "inspired" from looking at games from Newgrounds.


Tell me how many people got rich off newgrounds games again?

"In short, making a good game solo is possible without six figure funding and just paying with time and effort with assumption of knowledge of how to program that many here probably knows (and maybe drawing skills or a few thousands for someone to draw sprites)."

I thought this too, but it appears from my research that I was wrong. There are a few simpler games that were cheaper to develop then Angry Birds but even a relatively simple one like that costs six figures (even if you do a lot of work yourself).


Look at all the successful iPhone games and you find all kinds of similar games on Newgrounds. Many made years before and by high schoolers who can draw and program in Flash. Obviously that means no six figure budgets or any. Some are even fan games of popular flash games and yet remains good quality.

To be fair, many of the Flash makers evolved into real professionals to being an actual studio with real budgets (while others remains a website sell a t-shirt and others remains just an anonymous profile). But only in recent years that this means legitimate studios (and many of them are by guys who original made such games for free and never expected such popularity - like Armor Games that made Crush the Castle - which is commonly compared to Angry Birds) But my point still stands that someone a bunch of kids over the years was able to make iPhone quality games way before the iPhone ever existed and the only budget they had is their parents bought them a computer and maybe Flash Professional if they didn't bootleg it.

I could be wrong, but unless a huge swarth of the author profiles are lying of their age and those without even a link to an official website is making money in secret somehow. Many managed to make such games with no budget. In a way, the iPhone had made it possible for such games to be moneitizable now. For years before, those game type of games were played for free and no way to make money (except for the Newgrounds owners themselves).

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