What should be paid-for, and what should be free?

Here are two reviews of an iPhone app on the Apple App Store, copied mostly word-for-word

Fantastic game ūüôā ***** (5/5 stars rated)
Awesome music soundtrack, great gameplay, just pure love.  I agree that the update should be free, but I still bought the map pack because at least my money goes to the developer who really deserves it.

Pay for new content  *  (1/5 stars rated)
Game is good but having to pay for new maps is ridiculous. ¬†Also saying 5 star rating will keep updates coming. ¬†If I have to pay for updates, what’s the point.

Here I have discovered two immediately accessible cases of opposing attitudes of rating, but similar attitudes about product expectation. Myself, I found the game as a free promotional offer.  I assume it is normally a paid-for app.

I’ll say person A is the 5 star rating, and person B is the 1 star rating.

Person A has a good attitude.  There are a lot of apps out there that are good for fun or for usefulness and should be paid for, or tolerate any advertising that is present in the app to cover some costs of development or maintenance.

Person B expects too much.  What is the point of getting a game if expansions must be paid for?  Sounds like someone who might pay 200 dollars for the Nintendo Wii, or 300-400 for the Sony PS3 but expect 10 games to come with the console, or a full party-pack of controllers instead of the single ones that come packaged.

Maybe lots of people have expectations. ¬†But when they’re very harsh opinions that get tossed into the public domain where anyone can be influenced, the problem that I recognize isn’t the unreasonable harshness or the 1/5 rating despite the first few words being “Game is good”… The real problem is the cultural expectation of what should be free and what should be paid-for.

This is something I’ve been thinking about recently, relating to my own project.

Personally, I think the paid-for content should be anything that is above and beyond the original scope of the project, unless it is an enhancement to the product that actually fits within the original scope.

Now I have been thinking of a number of specific examples of this idea.

When I submit the first release of this product to Apple for approval to the App Store, I am going to make it either free or paid. ¬†My general desire is paid. ¬†This way, NO one tries the app unless it is paid for, and my personal expectation is that only people who really like the app will pay for it because I’m going to have appropriate (but very limited) marketing- good example screen shots of gameplay, not just menus. ¬†Also I plan on marketing a few videos on Youtube. ¬†So it can be known what the game is like and people who want it will buy it, and those who wouldn’t like to pay will just go get something else, for free. ¬†This is my reasoning. ¬†More info follows.

Any app that has better performance developed, say bringing a game from 20 frames-per-second to 30 or 40 fps, is a great development upgrade, and that should be included for free.  It is something that is contained within the original scope because it has no extension to the project.  It is an enhancement of the product but not a true extension/expansion.

Any new artwork that replaces original artwork is also enhancement, but not expansions/extensions.

But any new levels that are adding to gameplay that are not included in the original app are extensions.  It is a good thing for the developer/publisher to have a price set, or make it free if they want.

Another expansion/extension is multiplayer. ¬†This is one of the most significant aspects of a game. ¬†But when is it appropriate to charge for multiplayer? ¬†Seems like it’s always free!

Well, I would say if an app is released as single-player on the app sore, and is FREE, then the multiplayer should be a paid-for extension because the original app is already free for everyone to enjoy.  Adding multiplayer support within a game can be very complicated, and take many hours/days/weeks to setup and polish.  It is in so many games already for free, but most of these games are paid-for and so the consumer may expect multiplayer feature to be free.  I know I would.

So now for any free app, any extension is reasonable to be a paid extension, and even upgrades may be chargable.

The point of a free game is to have a free game.   Can it be any more obvious?  There should be no high expectations.

A paid-for game should have far more content than a free game.  extensions may be free, and some may be paid.  Deciding to make extensions free will be a very welcome thing to anyone who has paid for your app.  Making extensions paid must mean the extensions should be very, very good, sort of like the quality of a whole new app.  Something that adds new vibrancy to the game.

In my case, I am thinking of making large environments in the future, and will try selling them with a custom pricing model (say 1 sub environment for $1, 5 sub environments for $2, 10 sub environments for $5, and so on.

There are many different influencing factors, but one of the biggest influences is whether the app is free on the app store, or paid.

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