Judging by the response when I’ve written about the controversial topic of in-app purchases in kids’ apps in the past, plenty of people think they should be banned entirely: freemium as a no-go area for children’s apps.
I’m not so sure: when used responsibly and under the control of parents, in-app purchases can work well.
It’s less about £69.99 buckets of coins or Smurfberries in free-to-play games, and more about discrete purchases of stories in apps like Me Books, monthly subscriptions in apps like Hopster, and one-off unlocks in apps like Endless Numbers – to name just three examples.
Here’s a fourth: the new app from British publisher Nosy Crow. Available for iPhone and iPad, Nosy Crow Jigsaws is a collection of digital jigsaw puzzles based on the artwork from the company’s books and apps.
It’s a really good app: the artwork is full of character, and it’s clear that a lot of thought has been put into the interface, complete with a pull-out “tray” of pieces ready to be slotted into place in the main puzzle.
What’s riskier is that the app is freemium: free to download, and making its money from selling packs of puzzles via in-app purchase. But here too, it seems Nosy Crow has been treading very carefully.
“This is the first time we’ve introduced an in-app purchase option to one of our apps, and we’ve done it in a way that we think is honest, straightforward, and sensitive to both parents and children,” said the company’s digital project and marketing manager Tom Bonnick.
“This felt like an app that lent itself to the in-app purchase model – not least because we want to find a way to feed back money to the authors and illustrators whose work is so essential to the success of our business.”
Parents downloading the app get five puzzles for free, as well as all the puzzles based on any previous Nosy Crow apps that they own, including fairytale apps Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood, and educational wildlife apps Rounds: Parker Penguin and Rounds: Franklin Frog.
They can then buy packs of 10 puzzles for £0.69 as in-app purchases, or pay £6.99 to unlock the app’s entire catalogue of 200 puzzles.
Setting an upper limit to unlock everything an app has to offer would be frowned upon in the free-to-play games world, where publishers make a significant proportion of their revenues from heavy-spending “whales”. In the children’s apps world, though, such an upper cap is a responsible approach.
“We’ve tried to be as upfront as possible: there are no tokens, or gold coins, or any similarly euphemistic currency that might confuse a child about whether or not they’re spending real money,” said Bonnick.
“We know how many parents are wary of in-app purchasing – often with very good reason – and we’ve tried to be respectful of those concerns: we think this is a fair and transparent IAP model.”
In an appearance at the Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield in July, Bonnick talked honestly about the ethical dilemma facing children’s app publishers, trying to build sustainable businesses amid an explosion of freemium apps.
“The challenge is that a lot of things possible for adult apps and game apps –in-app purchasing and advertising – are really frowned upon in a lot of kids’ content,” he said then. Nosy Crow Jigsaws is the company’s attempt to prove that freemium apps can be responsible in this area.
• It’s time more parents started paying for children’s apps
• Free-to-play children’s apps: time for a proper debate
• OFT’s report into freemium kids’ apps raises questionsThis article was written by Stuart Dredge, for theguardian.com on Thursday 4th September 2014 10.24 Europe/London
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