Earlier today, a somewhat anticipated game went live in the Android Market - Duke Nukem 3D. We covered the release and the news that it was on the way. But reviews of the app on the Market are painting a picture of a less than satisfied customer base, because of a couple key pieces of information that Machineworks Northwest left out of the app description.
First, the game is ad-supported - but it still costs $1 to purchase. The ads cannot be disabled. Now, I'm perfectly OK with developers making paid apps that also have in-app ads, that's a business decision, not a philosophical debate. But what many user reviews of the app are showing is that most folks didn't expect to see ads in a game that they paid money to play up front. Traditionally, apps that are paid lack ads, while free apps rely on them.
There's nothing per se wrong about putting ads in a paid app, but I do think there is something wrong with not disclosing this kind of information before a purchase.
Duke Nukem 3D is a 27MB download - over 3G, that could take 5-10 minutes. A user might just slip their phone in a pocket while the game downloads, and check it later once it's complete. By that time, the Android Market's narrow 15-minute return window may have expired, and a user may open up a game they paid for, find the advertisements, and become unsatisfied. While a polite e-mail to the developer might yield a refund in this scenario, it could have been easily avoided in the first place by requiring disclosure that the game is ad-supported.
Why Should We Require Disclosure Of Ad-Supported Apps?
I think that was illustrated adequately above, but in my opinion there's a more moral reason for doing this. It's clear that most users believe paid apps, by their very nature, should not include ads. When we buy software for our computers, video games, or movies, we don't expect advertisements to come into play - we bought it, we expect to enjoy it free of advertisement interference.
The expectation of consumers is then very clear in this regard. By selling an application requiring payment from a user upfront, there is an implicit agreement in the mind of the user that the app will not contain advertisements. As we've shown, this isn't always the case.
But that doesn't change the expectation - and consumers clearly would like to know whether an app contains ads, especially when they're paying for that app in the first place.
My proposal is this: Google should require that any app include a clear label that indicates it is ad-supported. This label could be added to the app's price as a simple parenthetical, eg: "Free (Ads)" or "$0.99 (Ads)." That's it. It allows consumers to see whether an app is ad-supported - and I don't see a problem in providing this very simple information.
Obviously, there will be the issue of technical implementation versus voluntary disclosure (it could just be something developers are required to answer "yes" or "no" to, and users could report those who lie), but it doesn't sound like a huge burden. The upsides? Consumers get more information about products they're using, and apps like Duke Nukem 3D don't get a ton of 1-star ratings for including ads in a paid app. The downside? Developers are forced to disclose that they're making money off your use of the app. Is that so bad? I also believe that the fact that the Android Market is open to any submitted app makes this an even more compelling argument.
Duke Nukem 3D brings up yet another interesting issue about apps - namely, in-app purchases. When you pay $0.99 for Duke Nukem 3D, you're buying the first "episode" of the game. Episodes 2 and 3 cost an additional $0.99 each. Some customers were frustrated by this, because it's not very clearly labeled (it's at the very bottom of the app description).
Should developers be required to indicate their app contains additional content via in-app purchase? I'd say this is just another piece of information that would benefit consumers, and in no way harm app developers. Google could simply add an asterisk to the price of any app to indicate that the price does not reflect the cost of additional content available for purchase once the app is downloaded. Easy enough.
What do you think, are these changes you'd like to see implemented on the Android Market? Let us know in the comments.