"They take my money/when I'm in neeeed/Yeah they're trifling friends indeed/Oh yeah they're some gold diggers/way over town/that dig on me."
The lyrics above are my modest attempt to tweak the opening words of "Gold Digger," a song by Kanye West that was originally about a certain kind of woman but could now be better aimed at mobile game developers in general.
West recently took to Twitter in a rant about the use of in-app purchases on mobile games, which apparently have been charged by his young daughter North.
"[Expletive] any game company that puts in-app purchases on kids games!!!" he wrote. "That makes no sense!!! We give the iPad to our child and every 5 minutes there's a new purchase!!! If a game is made for a 2-year-old, just allow them to have fun and give the parents a break for Christ sake."
Despite a penchant for controversy, West's diatribe may find a willing audience among other parents who have lobbed similar complaints about the way developers monetize their work. It's probably one of the reasons Amazon has been experimenting with its "actually free" Appstore category and why Google has been rebranding areas of Google Play (along with appeasing European Union regulators).
Some, like CNet, have pointed out the hypocrisy of criticizing in-app purchases when West's own wife, Kim Kardashian, launched a blockbuster mobile game last year where IAPs are as high as $40. There's also the question of whether, given the combined wealth of a celebrity couple, they couldn't afford to let little North have free reign on IAPs in order to reach the next level of her favorite mobile games.
Developers should think twice about shrugging off Kanye West's critique, though. One of the reasons our culture is obsessed with celebrities is because they are both capable of doing things we can only dream of and yet are more accessible than ever before thanks to social media. Of all his tirades at awards shows and elsewhere, West's rant about mobile games may be the most humanizing thing he's ever done. Instead of an outsider speaking the truth to power, this is a rare example of someone with power speaking a widely-believed truth. (To wit: West's original Tweet on the subject has been "favorited' more than 54,000 times as of this writing.)
The more the rich and famous express their disapproval over IAPs, particularly in children's games, the more app developers will be responsible for either coming up with better controls or pursuing a different method of generating revenue entirely. "I was never really good at anything except for the ability to learn," West once said. Hopefully developers are really good at that, too. --Shane