When free really isn’t free

Wondering how the makers of mobile apps can afford TV advertising when they’re free to download? Well, we seem to quite like a model named “Freemium”.

The word itself, which is a mash-up of “free” and “premium”, means that you get the entire game or app for absolutely nothing. This is is instantly appealing.

However, there’s a catch. It’s almost like those cheap flights, which are usually advertised heavily at crazy-low prices. They look like ideal value for money, but then you realise that a sufficient amount of luggage is now chargeable “extra”. Likewise, you may expect to play a game and be challenged – not for it to be almost impossible to play or complete without payment. This is what I’m seeing more of in the marketplace, and it’s not a fixed one-time payment either.

Back in the “old days” we had DVD’s on the front of magazines. These had “demos” which were limited versions of games. They only had one or two levels, and to progress further you had to pay for the full game.

When free really isnt free

That I understand. That’s something I don’t mind. I used to play those demos over and over again until the game became available. Then I saved and eventually bought the quite-expensive-game. You knew how much that game would cost, you paid your money, then it was yours.

When free really isnt free

Now things are a bit different. Now we have the whole game on our phone, but additional features and functionality within the app or game are only obtained via in-app purchases. Those purchases, let me tell you, can add up. I’m sure you’ve read the scare-stories in the tabloids. Kids whacking those “buy” buttons not quite knowing about where the money is coming from, whether it is “real money” or the repercussions.

You may have seen a few of these “power-ups” and “virtual coins” popping up when you’re playing a game. You’re probably aware and know to ignore them. Sometimes they’re only £3 or £6 and you might think, “Hey, actually this game and the amount of work that’s gone into it is probably worth that. I don’t mind giving them a bit of cash”.

True, but there’s many apps that actually push you towards paying these smaller sums many times over, or even highlighting the more expensive option as a “value” deal. As an example, here’s the BBC Top Gear game ..

When free really isnt free

Likewise, here’s the wildly successful Temple Run. Again, you can easily spend quite a bit of money without great difficulty..
When free really isnt free

The two examples above are tame compared to some apps. Here’s “Contract Killer”, which encourages you to grab virtual money to upgrade weapons. Sure, you can earn that virtual money in the game or give yourself a boost with a bit of extra virtual cash. The trouble is, that “bit” of virtual cash costs a helluva lot of real cash. It’s incredibly easy to purchase this too. Just one click in some instances and the money leaves your bank account..
When free really isnt free

Now, I don’t know about you, but if I’ve just shelled out £34 (or the huge £77.99) I want all your in-game ads to disappear, I want a years worth of updates and, while you’re at it, a large crate of beer. Best of all, the £13.99 or £3.99 won’t be the end of it. These are just “micropayments” that, without you realising it, will add up to one rather large total pretty quickly.

And all this brings me to this South Park clip, which somehow manages to explain the whole freemium setup in a way I completely agree with.

Oh, and there’s a distinct lack of swearing, which is amazing..