Free apps usually aren’t really free, as my daughter found out tonight …
Our daughter got a first-hand lesson in how app studios make money.
We downloaded a puzzle app to our daughter’s iPad last night. It’s like a tangram puzzle but with everything made out of hexagons. (She’s a bit obsessed with hexagons now, and that’s all right, because it won’t be too long before she’ll be getting obsessed with guys. O_o )
“I don’t want to see ads!!”
She showed me the game tonight (she’d already gone through the first set of puzzles) and an interstitial ad popped up.
“GAH! I don’t want to see ads!!!” she exclaimed, as she dismissed the ad quickly and deliberately.
(Cue teachable-moment music.) I asked my wife, “How much is the paid version?”
“Two bucks,” she said.
(I turn to my daughter.) “That’s the cost of not being annoyed by the ads.”
Free apps get you by annoying you.
By “get you” I mean that free apps get you to pay in some fashion, directly or indirectly. Once you start using the app and like it, they’ve got your attention. Annoyance or frustration is one of the costs of free, As in:
- They’ll advertise to you. Advertising is thousands of years old. Putting ads in your apps is just the latest medium. (And they do pay some bills even if you never buy the pro version.) People don’t like interrupted by ads, and they’ll go to some lengths to avoid them. Paid versions of apps usually get rid of ads, or at least dial them back a lot. (I’m listening to Spotify Premium as I write this. No ads. It’s nice.)
- They’ll tease you. I can’t count the number of times I’ve clicked on a button in an app or on a website only to see an upgrade screen … or worse, “Oops! This is a pro-only feature. Upgrade here …” As if I made some kind of mistake clicking the button. (Grrrrrrr.)
- They’ll slow you down. Downloads deliberately take longer. Refresh rates are deliberately slower. The steps to getting things done with the app are deliberately more complicated. But the pro version opens the floodgates of awesomeness, and these (manufactured) problems go away.
- They’ll throttle you. This is a popular annoyance tactic free apps use to get you to pull out your wallet. I think the first time I saw this was on the Facebook game Mafia Wars. Each action to move forward in the game cost energy, which would eventually get low enough that you couldn’t play anymore. You then could either wait for the energy to drip back in, or … buy some more energy. This past weekend I was shown an app called Yousician that teaches music. The free version limits you to a half-hour a day. The paid version is unlimited.
- They’ll ramp up the difficulty quickly. This applies to games mainly. The free version goes from easy to difficult to darn near impossible in about four minutes. Not a very satisfying gaming experience. They make you decide pretty quickly whether to buy or not because repeating three levels endlessly isn’t fun.
- They’ll pester you. If there’s no paid version of the app, they may nag you to donate, or even may make you feel guilty for not donating.
Pick what you let annoy you
I get it.
Unless there’s a coalition of the very willing, apps gotta make money to make it worth the developers’ time.
Creative people can’t put food on the table with atta-boys. They need money, and that means paying customers or ad revenue.
So you have to decide what a reasonable “annoyance currency” is for what you get in return.
I play a Facebook game called Criminal Case. I haven’t paid them a dime directly — God help me and my budget if I ever did! — but I will occasionally watch an ad in order to play another round of the game immediately after instead of waiting for my energy to build back up. It’s a reasonable trade from my standpoint (instead of paying around 20 cents), and I know they get paid something for having shown me the ad.
I let that annoy me to play some more. For the same reason, I rarely enable an ad blocker in my browser, because I know that webmasters get money when people view their ads. But for some sites (mainly clickbait-type sites that suck me in from Facebook) I put the ad blocker on. Why? Because some of these sites are really greedy. My browser slows to a crawl with all of the ads that pop up, and then I get to read about one sentence before clicking the Next button — which becomes clickable only after most of the ads have displayed. It’s just not reasonable to be annoyed that much.
The irony of my daughter’s comment
Back to my daughter’s comment on not wanting to watch ads.
Do you know how she found out about that hexagon game?
An in-app ad in Angry Birds.