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In-app purchases in kids’ apps, right or wrong?

If you enter a toy store you would not expect to get the toys there for free, right? The same goes for digital toys; developing a kids’ app costs a lot of money and one way or another the developer needs to get paid for the product they are selling. There are different ways of charging for the app; charging a set price and giving the buyer access to all content at once, free to download apps that are paid with in-app advertising, monthly subscriptions and in-app purchases. This time I will focus on in-app purchases as I feel the perception and attitudes towards this business model are shifting.

When I first started creating apps for kids many years ago there was a strong general opinion that offering in-app purchases for young kids was not OK. Pappasappar, at the time hugely popular and influential kids’ app review site in Sweden did not even review apps that offered in-app purchases. And this is the thinking I grew up with when creating apps; targeting young kids with in-app purchases is not acceptable.

Some years have gone by, Pappasappar is unfortunately not that active anymore and it seems that the market and attitudes towards in-app purchases are changing. Sago Mini, one of the bigger (quality) players in young kids’ app market, has just recently changed to offering in-app purchases after only offering paid apps or subscriptions before. And to be honest, are in-app purchases really that bad? I don’t think they need to be, if executed well.

What I personally perceive as bad in-app purchases in apps for young kids are the ones that keep selling more, charging for every exciting new thing in the app. For a child under five it is impossible to understand why he or she is not allowed to play with that particular diamond and the situation will create either upset for the child or extra charges for the parents. But using in-app purchase to allow parents to test the app before downloading the full version is in my view not bad practice. However, I wish that developers would be clear on the app store descriptions about what is included in the free version and what is included in the fully paid version. This information is missing from the majority of the apps offering in-app purchases which I as a parent find quite frustrating. Also, some of the apps have been changed from paid apps to ones offering in-app purchases after the app has already been launched and when this function is not designed into the app from the start it does not always result in great user experience.

At Nampa all the apps except one are paid apps. I tested in-app purchase model with Nampa Show and it has worked OK, however I decided to go back to paid app with the latest release Nampa Town. It felt more right for that particular app. However, now that I have tested the water, I see in-app purchases being an option for future releases.

What are your thoughts of in-app purchases in kids apps? What’s your preference?

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