Disney DID it right: the IAP bait and switch

Oh Disney, we were all very happy when you seemed to have created a free app with in app purchases that didn’t cajole kids into demanding “more, more, more”. We were so excited that we wrote this:

When I downloaded Disney Princess Palace Pets, I expected the worst. Big brand Disney can easily promote a free app and then load it with “buy more” prompts, but it didn’t. It designed a truly free, fun app experience for kids. There is a parent locked area full of promotions, ads and upgrades – but come on, Disney (as far as I know) has never applied for non-profit status. The point is that kids can freely play without ever having to see an area that they cannot explore.

That changed one day later when we found the app contained new pets that prompted us to “buy more”. At least it didn’t come with the message “upgrade now or the puppy gets it!” – maybe we’ll see that update tomorrow.

We have such a low expectation for free apps with in app purchases, usually there is minimal content for free and then a barrage of pop-ups and nags about upgrading to a full app or buying “coins” to continue playing. When a child plays with an app, you want it to be enjoyable and fun – you don’t want them to be sad, frustrated and running to mummy and daddy for their App Store password.

Big companies are sometimes be the worst offenders for manipulating children into being little app junkies. Minion Rush by Gameloft is full of “pay to play” prompts – and yes, they have a full disclaimer on the first screen, but still the Despicable Me audience is probably 4 – 11 years. I don’t see any child that age taking time to understand a full page of text.

As for Disney, I would have been less disappointed if the in-app purchases where in there all along. We expect that, we don’t like it, but we expect it.

There has to be a better way to allow children to explore an app before purchase without aggressively promoting upgrades. Quality apps should not be free, because someone always has to pay. Getting the right balance is the challenge, but when we don’t get it right, it’s the children who pay.