Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Let me put on my COMPUTER NERD hat for a moment...

This picture represents all that can go wrong with micropayments and computing. The photo is from today's unveiling of the next update for the Apple iPhone software. One of the things they're adding is the ability for developers to add what are known as "micro-transactions" to any existing purchased application. This photo was a slide showing the transaction in the middle of a game.

I'm not against micropayments. They're a good way for software developers to generate additional money after the initial purchase and, of course, continuous predictable income is handy. But I object to "add-ins" that are really rather essential. Let's say Microsoft lets you buy the entire "Word" software for a dollar. That'd be a fantastic deal, considering the current price is somewhere above $50.

But if you want to use bold text, that costs a dollar to "unlock". Underlining is a dollar more. Each font you might use, other than the baseline "system" font, costs $2.00. The ability to add a picture of any size or shape costs $5.00. Printing costs $10, because you don't really NEED to print to get some use out of the program. Naturally, you don't need any of those things to use the software for its basic function: word processing. But being constantly nagged for small bits of money whenever you try to add anything to your documents is silly.

Micropayments do have a home in modern computing. You can still buy fonts one at a time and add them to Word's supply. If you want to buy pets for your characters in "The Sims", you can. And there's the booming market for cell phone rings and wallpapers. But I think it starts a dangerous precedent if essential pieces of software are held out for the commercially-inclined. Is there a bigger advantage given to you if you spend more money in a competitave game that's supposed to be about an even playing field?

"Sure, you and I should play a game of chess. Just to let you know, I spent a couple bucks and now my pawns can attack in every direction and I have twice as many as you. Good luck!"

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