Not a week goes by when Apple is seen in court; from the Samsung patent wars to the Siri class action lawsuit. The latest class action case has gotten game developers tentative about how they go about their freemium business models in the way of in app purchases (IAP’s). Are Apple’s IAP policies unlawful, an example of misrepresentation? Are IAP’s a form of ‘consumer bait’ stealthily hidden inside the freemium business model?
A judge in a San Jose court heard a class action lawsuit filed by disgruntled parents against freemium games which offer IAP. The court papers apparently show that the parents have coined (for the want of a better word) the phrase ‘bait apps’.
Firstly we have a problem with the terminology used. Bait apps is using semantics to draw direct and almost concordant comparison with ‘hook and bait’ scams. Schemes where somebody is tied in to a perceived agreement when, in fact, they’ve been baited, and are actually tied in to a costly new agreement. In other words, misrepresentation.
There are no games on the App store which force somebody to make purchases, nor any that tie somebody in to a non-existent agreement, nor any that take your money away by stealth for that matter. Therefore the reality of any hooking or baiting consumers is non-existent.
Apple have done plenty to ensure consumers know exactly what they are doing when accessing freemium apps within the iOS ecosystem. The parents woudn’t have to go to the trouble of bringing forward a class action lawsuit against Apple’s IAP policies if they went in to settings, selected ‘General’ and went in to the ‘Restrictions’ menu. If they had done so, they would’ve been able to disable in app purchases specifically whilst still being able to access freemium apps.
I am by no means blinded by Apple. There are certainly criticisms pitched towards Apple that are valid, such as Apple’s continual refusal to allow in app purchases tied towards charitable donations. Something which those of us within PlayMob are fighting an uphill struggle to lobby Apple about. The class action lawsuit brought by these parents will simply sideline genuine concerns about Apple and their business practices.
As the case in point shows, there is probably very little Apple can do (without ruining the user experience for the majority) in making their IAP policies clearer. Surely a positive way for them to deal with disgruntled parents or consumers unhappy with the freemium IAP business model would be to allow charitable donations to be connected to these in app purchases. After all, it’s far too easy to knock down an organisation that does very little in the way of charity, especially when they are extremely lucrative!
The freemium business model, coupled with in app purchases, has proved incredibly successful in generating great profits for game developers – both Indie and Corporate – alongside massive profits for Apple. It’s just a shame the Cupertino based company still won’t allow charities to get a look in.