We love a good laugh almost as much as we love a great mobile app story, so we have to confess that we were somewhat torn last week when we saw The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi ripping into Tap Fish’s Rizwan Virk. Tap Fish uses the freemium model of app monetization, whereby the initial download of the app is free, but users can pay for additional in-game currency should they enjoy the game enough to want to do so. We realize, of course, that the story of three adorable children maxing out their father’s credit card – to the tune of $1,500 – on in-game purchases makes for good television, but the accusations that freemium game vendors are “drug dealers,” that their business model is “outrageous,” and that they “should be ashamed of themselves” seems to us to go a bit too far.
The first problem lies in our own collective sense of entitlement. Gameview Studios, Tap Fish’s parent company, is in business to make money, and we’re hard-pressed to understand why anyone would think that it would distribute a quality product entirely free of charge. We’re also puzzled that the consumers would themselves believe they deserve hours of free entertainment for their children, to the point that they’re actually scandalized when money has to change hands.
Jon Stewart himself addressed another, more important problem in his introduction of Mandvi’s segment, namely that far too many parents are treating their iPads like a digital babysitter. Our first reaction upon hearing the story about the $1,500 the children spent on “fish bucks” was this: Why hadn’t the parents enabled the account password? And more importantly, why hadn’t they spent a few minutes learning about the game they were going to let their children play for hours on end before sending them off to another room with the iPad?
While we very much enjoy Mandvi’s segments and the program on which they appear, the moral of this particular story is a bit back to front. The lesson here isn’t that freemium app vendors are inherently unscrupulous and in need of a good scolding, but that parents ought to be paying a little more attention to what their children are up to. Of course, that’s not really new news.