App Microtransactions: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

App Microtransactions: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

microtransactions-in-app-purchaseThe concept of app microtransactions is not foreign to consumers of mobile technology in the modern app market. Apps that include or require consumers to submit payment for additional features or add-ons have become the norm. This business model has grown organically as a result of users having a hard time deciding whether or not they should spend their hard-earned money on an app. By making an app free and offering the user the choice to pay for additional features as needed, the barrier to entry for new users to download and use an app has been greatly reduced. This model has its benefits, its downfalls, and its unsightly impact on consumers’ wallets.


The Good  

Developers have immensely benefitted from microtransactions. Developers can more easily test the waters of the market with their apps. Instead of overcoming the hurdle of figuring out whether or not their app is a good idea in the first place, they can create a slimmed-down version of it and release it as a free product. After it has been on the market as a free app for some time, developers can access the potential for the app to have continued success. If the app proves to be working, then they can take the time to implement the rest of the features and release those features at a cost to the current user base in a new update through a microtransaction.

Microtransactions have been most successful in the game app market. Games have an advantage over value product apps in that games are inherently more addictive and entice the user to want to win. Developers have a big opportunity here to add “pay to win” add-ons to help their users win by giving them in-game boosts. These boosts usually come at a small cost for small boosts, and can cost upwards of $100 for larger boost packs. This gives developers the opportunity to make more money than they would with the typical $1.99 to $9.99 price tag of most paid apps on the market.


The Bad

While this model benefits developers, it negatively impacts the quality of apps on the market by requiring a microtransaction to unlock more features. Apps are being released to the market that are not full featured and polished, leaving users with half-made apps and wanting more. While it may benefit developers to release apps on this model, it is unsatisfactory for consumers who look for apps to fit their needs but find that the apps lack the features they want.

It may be that you find a free app on the market that you really enjoy, but unless many others find the same enjoyment in the app as you, the developer might not release an update for it. You wouldn’t want to go out and buy a brand-new vacuum just to come home and find that the one you bought will require you to purchase two or three other attachments in order to vacuum in tight or high places when the packaging claimed it was compatible, right? Apps should not operate this way either, or they will continue to deter consumers from exploring and discovering new apps on the market outside of the mainstream apps that their friends and family use.


The Ugly

microtransactions-the-uglyAdditionally, apps that have success with this model are leaving users with the ugly truth that they will need to sink more and more money into an app to get the most out of it. This practice is particularly prevalent in game apps. As I mentioned earlier about developers having a good opportunity to make money, requiring microtransactions in order for the consumer to be successful in an app exploits the addictive nature of the game, and promises the user that by paying money, they will be able to win. Oftentimes these games involve high scores, and consumers will do anything to beat their peers in order to show that they are superior, whether they pay for the app or not.

Over the past few years, there have been many articles about children who are spending thousands of dollars on in-app microtransactions from games such as Clash of Clans, Candy Crush, Game of War, and others. A child in Belgium who was given a credit card by their mother to buy e-books racked up a total $50,000 worth of microtransaction charges in the game Clash of Clans. Another child in England spent $5,900 on the iPad game, Jurassic World, after memorizing their parent’s password for the App Store. While it can be argued that it is not the microtransactions’ fault for these incidents, it is obvious that microtransactions are enabling this behavior.

Microtransactions have their place in the app market when implemented with consumers in mind. Developers can use them as a tool to allow more freedom in the app-creation process. This way, developers will not be deterred from taking the time to make an app that will not be profitable. Making apps is not a simple process, and the reward of economic benefit helps developers feel better about putting forth the effort to make great apps. Microtransactions just need to be done right, and not with the intent to exploit the consumer. Consumers want to feel good about giving an app a chance and not feel like they are just going to be wasting their time by downloading a free app they can’t use. The amount that consumers can invest in apps should be throttled or deferred into donations for the developers to continue making worthwhile apps.

3 Tips to Start Using Motion in Design

3 Tips to Start Using Motion in Design

Motion connects the designers and developers who are working on a mobile application with its users. Scrolling, navigating through screens, and adding or editing content may all be inherent features of an app in 2017, but the app still needs to feel right. UX designers live for the challenge of making an app feel right to the user, and motion is one tool in their arsenal. As Shockoe tackles mastering this tool, here are three tips for how to start thinking about integrating motion into your designs.

Tip 1: Show the Relation

You’ve put in the work, made the sitemap, and even mapped out the flow. You know exactly how to get from Screen A to Screen Z. Do your users? It’s important to make sure your users will be able to navigate the app with the same fluidity you do. Probably the best option for ensuring this is one of the simplest: show your user where the screens are coming from.

Navigating from the leftmost tab to the one on the right? Show that by pushing your current content off-screen to the left, making room for the new content coming in from the right. Google Play Music is a fantastic example of how an entirely new page can originate from a single, much smaller element. It shows the growth of that element into a full page.

Tip 2: Don’t Lose the Users

This touches a bit on the last point, but it is key that you don’t confuse your users or lose them in a complicated motion. If you have too many elements moving in too many directions, or even one element moving too far, you may run into some problems.

An example of what to do and what not to do both come from different implementations of the same feature in different versions of the Android operating system. On devices that ran Android M, there was a hovering search bar at the top of the home screen. This was a great addition, bringing a Google search right to the forefront of the user’s most-frequented screen. As you might expect, the search automatically offered suggestions as the user typed.

On the newest Pixel 2, that search bar has been moved to the bottom of the home screen, just under the app drawer and just above the software buttons. A UX/hardware issue is solved here by allowing users to reach their search bar more easily, but a visual transition issue is created. When the user taps the new bottom-anchored search bar, it acts like before and is now on the top of the screen, populating your autofill search results. This is probably nit-picking and just requires some getting used to, but it makes the search bar feel like more of an “activation” and not a true, transforming element on the device’s screen. That takes away a bit of what made that simplicity in movement so special.

Tip 3: Have Some Fun. Find It, If You Have To

This point applies to everyone in design, but it holds special weight in designing motion as there is so much that can be done. This is more for your own sanity, but it’s very important in every project to have even a little fun, and not nearly enough people value taking a moment to do so. A solid check for this is looking inward and thinking about what you would want to see an app do.

Take 15 minutes, grab your notebook and a pencil, create some sketches, and just … go with it. Look at what’s been done in other apps, what hasn’t, and find what works for you. Don’t limit yourself to the mobile realm for inspiration; consider television shows, video games, etc., as well. The kind of work we’re most proud of is typically the work we enjoy making, so be sure to explore every corner of your creativity when designing motion.

So what are your thoughts?

Hopefully, these tips have helped you start thinking about the ways you can use motion in your designs. In this post, we touched on the basics of motion; we look forward to expanding on these ideas in a future post that dives deeper into the nitty-gritty details on how to make motion work in your apps. As you start integrating motion into your projects, reach out and let us know what you think, if you have any thoughts to add, or if these tips have helped you out in any way.

Editor’s Note: 

Want more tips on Design? Check out our most recent blogs:

10 Commandments of Designing for Accessibility Every Designer Needs to Know

How to Apply Minimalism to Complex Apps

Interested in what it would take to kick off your project?

Our experience and core services include strategy & transformation, user experience & design, mobile application development, and API management.

6 Lessons in Building Mobile Experiences for Non Profits

6 Lessons in Building Mobile Experiences for Non Profits

During the course of publishing a pro-bono mobile experience for the non-profit Roatan Marine Park out of the Bay Islands, Honduras, something struck a chord with the Bill Nye bobblehead that sits on my left shoulder. Where’s the category for Changing the World? it whispered.

There isn’t one. For the Roatan app, RMP iPatrol, which allows citizens to report illegal activity harmful to the surrounding Mesoamerican reef – the world’s second largest – our best options were Education or Travel.

In the process of writing this post, I went to the Play store to see what showed up. Following the games and ‘entertain yourself’ recommendations, this is an example of the apps displayed:

Granted, this was on my work account. As a designer at Shockoe, I work on a lot of enterprise apps that often aren’t accessible via the app store, but I also download, assess, test, and work on all types of consumer mobile applications, including those for rewards programs, tasty drinks (still can’t get over that callout), financial and social. It makes sense that I’d have a very commercial constellation of recommended apps.

There are roughly 2.5 – 3 million apps available on the respective app stores and, based on sheer volume, gaming still smashes all other categories. It’s not a leap to say that in terms of engagement the winners are those that could be referred to as “bored now” – games and social apps that are designed to fill your time and attention when you’re in the waiting room, lunch break, or refusing to fall asleep.

The popularity of gaming, social, and entertainment apps isn’t likely to change, but what can is our commitment to bringing effective mobile solutions to the Davids out there battling on our behalf.

I have kept an approving eye on things like Civic Hacking, Citizen Science, and Tech for Good, but my appreciation for how powerful mobile could be in the non-profit, changing the world space – particularly for reporting, data collection, and community building – has me convinced that David’s slingshot is primed for an update.

Based on conversations with a non-profit client and my own experiences, here are a few considerations for those looking to do their part in making mobile apps for good.

1. Make sure you are willing (and able) to commit to the problem, not just an app

Firms should pursue issues that they care about and that the company will wholeheartedly get behind. Coming into a non-profit project with a one-and-done type mindset – swoop in, build a quick app, slaps on the backs, then it’s back to work as usual – at best will provide temporary fixes. At worst it will alienate users with sub-par experiences due to being outdated and unsupported. We need be taking these projects on like we normally approach apps – as products that require constant improvements, maintenance, and validation that we are indeed solving the problem we set out to solve.

2. Think Enterprise and Platform

Regardless of what issue your app seeks to solve, other non-profits are probably working in the same space and on similar problems. Consider the benefits of building an adjustable/scalable framework that could be tailored for specific needs. Time spent on APIs and scalable architecture is almost always time well spent. If you want to track the health of monarch butterfly populations/migrations it wouldn’t make much sense to gather data in one county. You build a monarch tracking app, make it publicly available, and have a central database with easily surfaced data that researchers everywhere can access.

3. Consider the lessons from models in community and contributor-driven apps

There is a subtle power in the give-and-take nature of community driven apps. Waze has a huge and fanatic volunteer contributor community. The app works almost entirely on the goodwill of the driving community (and some algorithms, GPS, and other cool stuff). Benefitting from the contributions of others creates a compelling feeling to return the favor and an emotional reward for doing so. You see the same type of situation in plant identification apps, car repair forums, and countless others. It pays to study up on the mechanics of people helping people to do a collective task.

4. Be a good coach

Especially if you’re working with a smaller non-profit, it’s likely that there is no CTO, CIO, IT department, or perhaps anyone who has done a technical project. This is an opportunity to be a great coach (and evaluate your own process). Be clear about how the project will work and what you need from them. Explain acronyms and jargon. Your goal, as hopefully, it is with every project, is to share knowledge and impart confidence.

5. Resist the temptation to experiment or deviate from your standard process

Steer clear of using your non-profit project to experiment with your process or throw a junior team into a sink-or-swim, figure-it-out situation. I have heard it from more than one person working in the non-profit space that they rarely receive the same quality or level of professionalism from companies that are donating services. The standards you hold to yourself shouldn’t be variable. Don’t make an exception.

6. Respect each other’s timelines and responsibilities.

During research for this post, one NGO employee told me, “people seem to think that people who work in NGO’s are running around hugging trees all day, that they don’t have deadlines, that they don’t have the same if not more administration to do as any other business.”

In my experience, employees at non-profits often do have more responsibilities than their counterparts at standard businesses. Lack of resources forces everyone to wear more hats. Be cognizant going into a project that the folks leading the charge often have so much on their shoulders that even if they love the project it can turn into one more burden on a pile of others that leads to stress.

If that’s the case, our approach as consultants should be either to 1) assume as much ownership over the project as can be done without jeopardizing the expertise/institutional knowledge the NGO brings and/or 2) be hyper-aware of (and plan for) client-side deadlines/responsibilities.

I am convinced that mobile can play an important role in bringing about the types of changes that would benefit us all. Consider the following (in a non-judgemental, shame-free way): in 2017 we are projected to hit nearly 5 billion mobile users worldwide. [source]. As of last year, we were collectively spending over a billion hours a month on mobile games alone, second only to social media usage. [source]. Imagine the impact we could make if we all had at least one app on our phones that allowed us to contribute to solving a community issue, or if we spent just 1% of our gaming hours on cataloging invasives or mentoring young folks, or, as residents of Roatan now can, reporting damage to coral reef systems.

Better yet, find what you care about and let’s make it happen.

[Note: I acknowledge that things are rarely as simple or black and white as some of the references or points above. Mobile isn’t a silver bullet, but it also does a lot on its own already – apps bring healthcare to rural populations and information to the underserved, Waze cuts drive times which in turn cut down CO2 emissions, business apps cut paper waste and improve efficiencies. But still. We can do more.]

Editor: Learn more about the Roatan Marine Park project and how Shockoe is contributing to saving the world’s second largest reef.

Read what our partner, Axway, is saying about RMP iPatrol.

If you’re interested in getting started on your own idea, reach out here for more information.

Interested in what it would take to kick off your project?

Our experience and core services include strategy & transformation, user experience & design, mobile application development, and API management.