“We have a long track record of developing Brew apps,” says Jared Shapiro, vice president of engineering at Sonic Boom. “We had been waiting for the chance to combine subscriptions with in-app purchases, so when we found out that Brew was going to launch A-VB with Verizon, we jumped at the opportunity with the first app in our development pipeline that looked like a good candidate: Crazy Night Out.
“It’s the most content-intense title we’ve published to date because of its episodic nature, its appeal to the teen/young-adult crowd, and the interactive adventure style of game play. There’s a lot of story spread over 12-16 hours of game play, and we decided to launch it with both subscription and one-time purchase pricing models. When A-VB came along, we realized we could incorporate in-app purchases to let users purchase the following week’s content ahead of time.”
The Crazy Night Out app includes all of the text, game play and UI, so the in-app purchase unlocks game content already on the phone; the company doesn’t need a separate content server to deliver the upgrade.
Adding A-VB to the app
To capture in-app purchases and get them onto the customer’s phone bill, Sonic Boom first amended its Brew Developer Agreement to include application-value billing, and then downloaded the Brew A-VB Extension from the Brew Developer Extranet.
The extension includes:
a Windows DLL for the A-VB extension so developers can code and debug in the Brew Software Development Kit (Brew SDK) and test in the Brew Simulator
- a header file
- a Brew binary module (MOD) file for testing on a target device
- source code for a sample application
- a reference for APIs used by the extension
- an A-VB Best Practices Guide
“Integrating with Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.’s A-VB libraries and APIs was straightforward,” continues Shapiro. “It took about a week to get the technology working. We added menus and prompts to lead users through the transaction and to show their prior in-app purchase history.”
Crazy Night Out uses an extension (IBilling) for creating and submitting billing requests. The extension queries the carrier’s application download server and retrieves the list of value billing retail pricing that the user sees in the app.
Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. also provides an A-VB Server Simulator to generate responses that the app will receive on the user’s phone. It displays transaction data and lets developers set and return error conditions.
In-app purchases affecting the gaming economy
Think in-app purchases are just a fad? Think again. Developers like Sonic Boom are cultivating champions, creating buzz around their titles and generating revenue beyond the initial download of the application. With support from carriers and platforms, they can integrate in-app purchases so smoothly that users can obtain the upgraded content without interrupting play.
And when the upgrade is this simple in an enjoyable game, users respond. In 2010, one in five active gamers in the U.S. spent money on in-game virtual items and micro-transactions, according to "Online Gaming: Global Outlook" a study from Park Associates. GigaOM reported in November 2010 that, while one third of the top 100 iPhone apps were free, they used in-app purchases to generate revenue.
Maria Giatrakis, director of publishing at Sonic Boom, has seen the proof for herself. “With hundreds of story branches filled with action, romance and comedy, we’re getting a lot of mentions about users wanting the next season and new content, so we know they’re engaged. We also know that in-app purchases play a big role in giving them what they want. Nearly 50% of subscribers are paying to unlock Crazy Night Out content ahead of schedule, and that’s the best feedback we could possibly have.”