Ben Dodson

Freelance iOS, macOS, Apple Watch, and Apple TV Developer

The illusion of choice

In the last week, I’ve tried to purchase two things that made me question the way in which choices are presented to us whilst purchasing. It also made me think about how we market our in app purchases within WallaBee.

The first choice I questioned was Disney Infinity 2.0, the latest version of the sandbox game that lets you mix and match Disney characters in a toy box environment. At launch, there are only 2 ways to get the game; buying the Marvel Superheroes Starter Pack (£57)1 which includes 3 figures and a play set piece (which gives you several hours of themed game play) or the Disney Toybox Pack (£55) which comes with just 2 figures and 2 game discs (which give you power ups). Both sets come with a USB base to place your characters on and the actual videogame software (on disc) which gives you the Toy Box mode. The issue here is that the Marvel pack comes with an extra character and a play set piece2 which will give you much more than just the toy box for only £2 extra. My second issue is that there is no upgrade path for those like me that already have a lot of the original Disney Infinity stuff. I already have a USB base and 17 characters so I really only need the videogame disc in order to get the new toy box mode up and running; I could then buy something like the Guardians of the Galaxy Playset Pack (£28) which gives you a playset piece and 2 characters to use within it.

As it stands, there is no way to get the software either on its own or in a digital form which seems crazy in this day and age. Nearly all of my Xbox One games are the digital versions because I hate having to swap the discs to play a game (especially when it is only reading it to unlock the DRM - the actual game is installed onto the hard drive so the disc is used purely for authentication).

I’ll most likely end up buying the Marvel version as it just makes financial sense even though I’m not that interested in the characters or the playset.

The second purchase that I’ve questioned was the new iPhone 6 models. The pricing3 looks like this for the iPhone 6 Plus:

  • 16GB: £619
  • 64GB: £699
  • 128GB: £789

Notice anything strange? Each storage capacity was doubled from the iPhone 5S except the 16GB model which stays the same. This leads to a very disjointed price list as the gap between the 16GB and the 64GB is only £80 and there is no 32GB model - it makes no sense that you would choose the 16GB over the 64GB especially when you consider that the iPhone 6 models have far better cameras and can do things like 240fps and time lapse videos which will eat that up (not to mention the @3x resolution bumping up the size of every app as they get updated).

For the last 2 years I’ve had 16GB iPhone models and it has become apparent that they are just not big enough (as many people found when trying to upgrade to iOS 8 over the air). I regularly have to delete my music cache to save space or offload photos and videos. I would have been happy paying a bit extra for a 32GB (or having the base model doubled) but in the end I went for 64GB on both phones as I just don’t see 16GB being a workable size.

So why do companies do this? In the case of Disney Infinity, I think they just want to cover their backs and try to stop anybody buying the game without the USB base and some characters as otherwise the game won’t work. My wife suggested they could make the game available as a digital download but just put a warning that you need to have some bits from the previous game; from experience I know that nobody reads those warnings. With the iPhone 6, I can only imagine that they really want people to buy the 64GB model and so by starting at 16GB they are basically showing you a bad option in the hope you’ll buy the better model. This has an extra benefit that they can say “starting at £619” when they know most people will go to the £699 model.

We do something very similar in WallaBee with our packs of honeycombs (our freemium currency). Here is a quick list of the packs we sell along with their price4 and the percentage of sales5 each one has:

  • 25000hc - £7.99 - 81%
  • 20000hc - £6.99 - 1%
  • 15000hc - £5.49 - 12%
  • 5000hc - £2.49 - 3%
  • 2500hc - £1.49 - 2%
  • 1000hc - £0.69 - 1%

As you can see, the 25000hc pack is overwhelmingly the most popular. This may be because it has a “most popular” banner attached to it on the purchase page but I think it is picked the most because it is the best value when you look at a strict honeycombs to pence conversion (we don’t do any additional benefits like adding some other currency or benefit on the higher packages - they are literally you get what you buy).

The point I’m getting is that we could probably scrap all but the 25000hc and 15000hc packs without negatively affecting sales, but then there would be less choice available to our players. We did drop a 10000hc pack a while ago when we were experimenting with a grid based sales page; it was the least popular option and we wanted just 6 items to keep the design even. I’m not sure if minimising the amount of options further would be good as it means making people compromise as in the case of Disney Infinity and the iPhone 6; I’ll buy the options they are pushing me too but I won’t feel good about it.

An interesting counterpoint to this is the way in which we sell locks within WallaBee. Locks allow you to protect items you drop from being taken by other people and we sell them in packs of 10 for £0.69. Many players have asked us to sell them in packs like honeycombs so that we could do a range of options for each budget but the reason we keep them at a single price point is that they are massively popular; in fact, they are our most purchased in app purchase6. Whilst selling a pack of 50 or a 100 might generate more sales, it would mean that a £0.69 in app purchase would no longer be most popular. Why is that important? On the App Store, you can see the top in app purchases for a game and it is my feeling that showing a £0.69 item at the top of that list rather than a £7.99 one looks better to new players who are often sceptical about how much money a freemium game is going to try and take from them.

I’m pretty pleased with the way that we do real world transactions in WallaBee but we are going to be making a big drive for what we like to call “ethical freemium” in the future with several big changes. One of the things we don’t do now and never will is sell huge packs at prices like £64.99 - I see this in many freemium games and it is just gross (as well as looking bad in the “top in app purchases” screen on the App Store). Something I have often toyed with for those that do want to make larger purchases, such as those who want to buy multiple lock packs, is to add some form of payment processing on our website that is separate to the App Store; that way, players could buy as many locks as they want without affecting our top purchases list.

When it comes down to it, choice is simply an illusion. Most of the time, you are being cajoled into making a specific purchase. In the case of Disney Infinity and the iPhone 6, it seems pretty obvious. With WallaBee, we’ve experimented both with offering choice (as in our honeycomb packs) and offering no choice (with our locks). It’s hard to say which works best but I think I prefer having a single option to choose from rather than being given several but being subliminally pushed to a chosen option. Maybe I should remove those superfluous honeycomb packs after all.

  1. There is a “Collector’s Edition” as well at £110 but it is essentially the same thing with more characters. ↩︎

  2. The play sets are basically movie tie-in games in that you can only use characters from that series within them and you’ll get around 5-10 hours of story driven gameplay. It means that Disney can release a new game within Disney Infinity without having to redistribute the base software (you just buy one of these pieces that goes on the USB board). ↩︎

  3. This is for an unlocked iPhone 6 Plus in the UK. Obviously with a carrier and a plan the cost would be different. ↩︎

  4. The price differs around the world based on tiers that Apple sets up - they scale beautifully in USD but look less obvious in GBP. ↩︎

  5. Data from 22nd August 2014 to 22nd September 2014. ↩︎

  6. This is the IAP that most people buy; it isn’t the one that makes the most money (that would be the 25000hc pack) ↩︎

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