The Darkside of ‘Freemium’ Content

I want you to close your eyes and imagine something, now open them, because you kind of need to be able to read to see where I’m going with this. It’s 2 in the morning, you’re playing your favourite terrible phone game, and you just can’t beat that one level, you can’t afford that next item, you can’t crush that next candy and you can’t tycoon that next roller-coaster and it’s just killing you. But you have to win, you’d do anything to win. This is where there virtual goods model emerges from the shadows and offers you a way out, and for only 99 cents.

The virtual goods model is the morally ambiguous little cousin of the ‘freemium’ model of social media revenue. The ‘freemium’ model involves the offering of a baseline product or service free of charge, with additional premium features or benefits available for an extra cost. This model has been implemented to great affect by online service providers such as Spotify, Prezi and many others including WordPress, the website I’m using to write this blog for free.Wordpress

And then we have the virtual goods model, which makes its money through micro-transactions, enticing game players (generally on a mobile platform) to purchase virtual goods in order to advance in the game. While not all games utilizing mobile transactions are doing something wrong, many have received criticism about their deceptive nature, particularly in targeting those with addictive personalities and even children, offering just a little more fun, a little more success, for just a little more money.


This is about as close as we get to extorting 7 year olds


This revenue model is all about execution, if done fairly they can be a perfectly legitimate means of generating revenue, but they do tread in an ethical grey area, with some preying on the naivety and youth of users to earn their money, and this is bad. It’s bad for consumers in the short run, and it could be bad for online and mobile games in the long run, as they risk earning a reputation of being deceitful, money hungry and sneaky.


Kanye gets it, a little ironic, but he gets it

So let’s not let micro-transactions get out of hand, if you’re using them for revenue, be ethical, and if you’re using them in games, be smart. It’s all in our hands, let’s just be reasonable.



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