Why I Didn’t Buy Your 99 Cent App

Every once in a while I run across anger or angst from developers of iOS apps about how people aren’t buying their app.  It is, after all, only 99 cents!

This is my all time champion complaint:

People are spending money at Kickstarter when they could be buying his app.  And he worked HARD on it.

The perception seems to be that people are complete cheapskates when it comes to apps for their iOS device.

There is a comic up over at The Oatmeal that illustrates this perception.

(Click on that link, or the image, to see the whole comic.)

Yes, that is exaggerating for comic effect, but it still implies that 99 cents is a barrier for people who think nothing of plonking down five bucks a day for coffee.

Oh, and expectations are too high.

Not sure what that was in reference to, but I though I would just throw that in there.  Hi Andrew!

Yet none of this rings true for me.

Price has never stood in the way of me buying an app that I really wanted.  I have some $9.99 apps on my iPad.

I don’t think I expect a lot from a 99 cent app, though clearly there is a lot of variation in how much apps at that price deliver.

Finally, I have hurled very little money at Kickstarter projects, and none of that actually has gone to video game projects.  But had I, that money hurled would not in anyway impact my iOS app buying decisions.  Attempting to make that connection seems laughable at best.

So I sat down and made a list of reasons why I might not have purchased any given app, which gave me eight bullet points, which I was able to combine down to five.

These are my reasons, and might as a whole apply just to me.  But I am going to guess that some of this list will apply to other people as well.

1 – I have never heard of it

Developers, the App Store is your biggest enemy.

This is, far and away, the most likely reason I have not bought your app.

I would like to rant about how annoying it is to browse the App Store, except that I find it annoying to browse things on the internet in general.  Amazon, Audible.com, Steam, iTunes, NetFlix and a host of other sites all seem to fail to get right the one thing a physical store can, which is to let the customer easily browse through the merchandise.

Part of it is selection; there is too much.   At a site like Amazon, which has listings for every book published in the last forty years and more, try browsing science fiction titles.  There are something like 90,000 choices at the top level.  In reality the list is smaller, because they list every edition (paperback, hardcover, audio, Kindle) separately.  But lets say I just want Kindle versions, that still leave more than 26,000 options.

I estimated once that my favorite local used book store had about 14,000 science fiction and fantasy paperbacks, which is a lot.  Yet in a physical space where I can scan whole shelves, that does not seem unmanageable.  But online, viewing in batches of 8-20 titles at a time, it is an unwieldy mess on which I quickly give up.

So for me to buy an app or a book or rent a movie, it pretty either has to show up on the front page of a search or somebody I respect has to recommend it.

The secret to success: Get Jeff Green to tweet that he likes you iOS app.  I went with him on Kingdom Rush HD and everything he has mentioned since.

2 – The price point is a red flag

Assuming I found your app on the App Store, I have to admit a bias against apps that cost only 99 cents.  My actual expectation is that your app will suck.

There appears to be so much crap at that price that my base assumption is that anything that is 99 cents is not worth my time.  This is based on my experience with apps at that price point.  If there are two similar apps that I am interested in, I will usually go with the more expensive of the two.

Looking at what is on my iPad right now, I have a bunch of apps that were $2.99-$9.99, a bunch that were free, and exactly one 99 cent app, Fancy Pants Adventures.  And for a 99 cent app, that is an awesome game.  If you think people have high expectations, maybe those expectations are being set by your competitors.

But the only reason I bought that app was because I had already played a version on the PlayStation 3.  So, again, get Jeff Green or somebody on the case to recommend your app.  Or charge more for a quality app.  I will pay more for one.

3 – The store page drove me off

Bad reviews and a low overall rating screams “pass” in my ear.  We are talking about something akin to an impulse buy, and nothing shuts down that impulse quicker that two stars and the last couple of reviews that say, “This version is totally broken!”

For a purchasing decision where reviews are mixed, I will usually go read the two and three star reviews, since those people seem most interested in communicating.  However, the App Store makes this annoying, so I just go with the overall review most times.  The App Store is your enemy.

4 – Your app appears to be an uninspired rip-off

Yes, there really is nothing new under the sun.  Everything has been done.  But if you are going to remake the same game, at least do so with some passion.  You have have to give me a hook, a reason why I should choose your app to guide a penguin/car/elf through ice floes/Manhattan/forest to help find fish/a gas station/the peace of eternal sleep.

Of course, sometimes it probably isn’t a total rip-off.  Sometimes there is a new twist.  Occasionally something new is brought to the table.  But your coding skills do not always translate well into communication skills, leaving me reading a few bland sentences that send me off to the next app.

5 – I am just picky

I do not like to have a ton of apps cluttering up my iPad.  This is often the primary reason I do not buy an app.  Once I get beyond four pages of apps on my iPad, it becomes clear that I have too many and it is time to pare down the list.

To this end, I also try to avoid cluttering up my iPad with crap in the first place.  For example, I have an app called Apps Gone Free that puts up a list daily of apps that are temporarily available for no charge.  It is a rare week if I download more than one app from the five to fifteen they list every day.  But then, a lot of the apps that show up for free are of the “99 cents and rightfully so variety” that I am already biased against.

And, finally, any app that requires me to tilt the iPad to steer a vehicle is right out.  Screw you Sonic & SEGA All Star Racing. (Also because you are really an uninspired Mario Kart ripoff.)

So What?

I realize that I may not be the ideal target market for developers making 99 cent apps.

I am old and cranky and use an iPad, which means I want full screen versions of apps, which usually costs more.  For example, Kingdom Rush is only 99 cents on the iPhone, but the HD version for the iPad is $2.99.  The same goes for what is probably my most played iPad game, Ticket to Ride, which runs $4.99 on the iPad. (And I have purchased all the DLC as well.)

On the flip side, I will gladly pay more than 99 cents for quality.  At least if I find out about it.  The App Store still sucks at just about any price point.

So how about you?  Do you buy lots of 99 cent games?

Do any of my reasons ring true for you?

12 thoughts on “Why I Didn’t Buy Your 99 Cent App

  1. Genda

    The irony of this is that if something doesn’t cost more than $10 in the store, I assume it’s crap or ancientware and then I won’t even look at it, let alone buy it. Put it in an online store like Google Play and I actually think about it.



  2. HarbingerZero

    I haven’t seen any apps yet, 99 cents or otherwise, that looked like they would give me any more enjoyment than the free ones. But then I also don’t contribute to Kickstarter vaporware either, so maybe I’m not the target audience here!

    I don’t know how much effort it takes to churn out one of those apps, but part of me wonders if this list of complaints isn’t mostly made up of recent college grads who thought they could code a cheap app every year and make a good living out of it, and are rapidly learning otherwise.


  3. bhagpuss

    That comic sums up my feelings on the endless hand-wringing over whether New MMO X is worth buying or subscribing to. The price of a video game may be more than 99c but it’s still a trivial expense for most working adults. A monthly subscription even more so. Just buy it and try and and if you don’t like it forget it. It’s the price of one evening out, if that. It’s not like a new AAA MMO comes out every month.

    As for apps, like you, I’m more concerned about the space these things take up than the cost.


  4. Anonymous

    Your synopsis is awesome – I am right there with you. Its funny – you mentioned the game Kingdom Rush HD, I went out and checked it out and bought it. Word of mouth from people whom I read and or respect their gaming input – it sells. One game that I love is Spaceward Ho! Played it as a wee lad, and still love it.


  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Anon – I remember Spaceward Ho! I think I must have bought several versions of it over the years. Delta Tao had some good stuff. I wish they had ported Strategic Conquest over to Windows. There were similar games, but never one that quite got the simplicity and scale of that game. Ah well.

    Spaceward Ho! would make a decent iPad game. Oh, there it is in the App Store. Now I own another version.

    @Bhagpuss – Actually trying a new MMO isn’t that big of a deal. It is all the annoyance of making yet another new account (whose password will get stolen eventually when the company DB gets hacked, so better make it unique) and downloading and patching the software and actually getting into the game that is the chore. I am unwilling to commit to that any more unless I think there is a strong likelihood that I will enjoy the game. Well, the $60 price tag hurts as well. I’d rather go to a couple of movies with the family than put that much down for some games.


  6. SlothBear

    Yeah I have barely any cheap apps on my phone but a few expensive ones and a lot of free ones. The $.99 ones just seem like obvious attempts at money grabs and usually offer so little more than the free ones I don’t see the need. Of course I don’t play games on my phone so maybe I’m not really in the $.99 market.


  7. Potshot

    Excellent list. I don’t buy something because of its price but rather despite its price.

    I’m certain the value to price ratio is a nice U shaped curve.


  8. Machination

    Reminds me of the complaint I sometimes see about MMO trials…

    “I’ll only try it if it’s free-to-play. Not even an unlimited-time free trial would tempt me to try it.”

    They’re the same thing, but it’s a purely psychological distinction.
    Present it right — like DayZ, and suddenly people are lining up to have their hard-earned achievements taken from them when they die. Present it another way, and they’ll complain over the slightest inconvenience, especially if it’s free.


  9. shivoa

    Wasn’t the famous experiment 1 cent for cheap chocolate vs 26 cents for premium stuff and an even split of subjects between which offer to take, change the cheap stuff to free and the expensive to 25 cents and you get 80% of people picking free. We all have limited time (and can’t sample everything) so a free trial is how developers can get more eyes, 99 cents is still not free so there is not a psychological hook there. Why would anyone buy something sight unseen? This is why we have demos and the entire model for F2P/freemium, hook them on a time only investment and then leverage that time investment to make the case for the value of the premium offering; let the customer decide the value proposition based on an informed choice.

    Agreed that exposure is key, but also a free demo or premium design is going to make all the difference if you don’t luck out and get the attention of a few big distributors of trusted opinions (celebrities or review sites) to push your message.


  10. alexheynash

    Josi- please try my app WherezIT for $.99! I think it’s worth more than that, but I’m obviously biased and know how much it cost to develop it (I hired a company) and it’s painful that I’m making so little in return. I do buy a lot of cheap apps and I delete a lot of cheap apps! Great article (I’m going to retweet it)!


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