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Are in-app purchases a good or bad thing for Android?

November 23, 2009 | by Andrew Kameka

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Are in-app purchases a good or bad thing for Android?

The Android Market currently doesn’t enable in-app purchases, but Chinese company Urbian works around that issue by linking to downloadable upgrades available in the Android Market. While its Android app Ringz is a free puzzle game, getting expansion packs that include more levels requires a $1.99 purchase. Is this a clever way to gain more money or another failed attempt at monetizing Android?

Android has not been financially rewarding to anyone but a handful of devs who have had to watch iPhone sales skyrocket and earn nice paychecks for their creators. Will Ringz’s upgrade strategy get Android users to open up the purse strings more often? This sales pitch is similar to the Lite vs. Full strategy that has dominated the Android Market: release a free app that gets popular, and then offer a paid version with more services. One major difference is that Ringz links to the “full” version in the app and will continue charging more every time it has enough content to warrant a new level of expansion.

I’m not big into MMORPG, but I’m told “expansion packs” are common in World of Warcraft and similar titles. That makes me think Android gamers will be more acceptable of this practice; I’m not sure how effective it will be in other app categories. For instance, Locale is a great free app I use and I’d be willing to pay for an advanced version, but I haven’t purchased any of its plug-ins that add extra features for 99 cents. I don’t like the idea of having to shell out a buck every time a new feature can be added to the app. Why can’t I just pay the $2.99 upfront and get updates for free? That may not be the most financially rewarding move for a developer, but that’s the view I have as a consumer not wanting to pay money every time you add a new feature.

It’s too early to tell if Urbian’s strategy for Ringz will work but it’s something worth tracking. If Ringz is successful financially, you can count on more devs taking the expansion pack approach.