There has, for as long as I can remember been an unbelievable injustice in the purchasing of applications. I have often pointed out on various channels of publication that I cannot stand being locked into an eco-system such as Apple’s iOS and iTunes empire. The other day I got incredibly annoyed when I realized that I have Worms 2 on a computer, on a PlayStation one and I wanted it on my iPad to relive the glory days of the super sheep. I then realized that I would have to pay for the game again. Fair enough, £0.69 isn’t the end of the world but I’ve already bought this game twice, why should I have to buy it again. Then I had a second annoyance when I found out that if I want to download the same game for my iPhone, I’d have to pay for it again. The same game, the same operating system but a slightly different sized screen. This is essentially like saying when playing Portal 2 on Steam, hey if you change your monitor size. It’s like saying if you buy a new DS that you should have to buy a new cartridge and quite simply put this is a horrible approach to selling things to the consumer.
I’ve said from the moment that iBooks came out, that I wouldn’t buy a single iBook from Apple because I don’t want to be tied down to an Apple device. How am I to know whether Apple will remain a good product designer in the future, or in an even more far-fetched manor, how am I to know Apple will even be around in the future. Does that deem my books unreadable? Brand loyalty in the technical world gets you absolutely nowhere. The market is constantly moving and now more and more people are adopting Android phones over iPhone but those with their iBooks, iTunes music and movies are stuck with their inferior devices because they can’t jump ship without massive inconvenience and this is simply wrong.
This is an age old problem. Authors have forever had the problem of publishers. The middle man in between the writer and the reader. This is what has happened with the new operating systems all our smart phones, tablets and now mainstream computing systems have. Why should I have to buy Fruit Ninja on my Windows 8 laptop, my iPad and my Nexus phone. I shouldn’t. The middle man is squeezing profits from the developer, taking money for putting an Application in the limelight. I am obviously aware of how important app distribution platforms have been for developers but at the same time they are reducing profits for the developers and they are reducing freedom for the consumer. How is this fair?
It is extremely difficult to propose a solution to this however one platform of distribution that I have found to be fairly good with their “fairness scheme” is Valve’s Steam. I’ve been a PC gamer for years and had built a rig years ago primarily for gaming and with that I downloaded ever PC Gamers favorite game platform. I downloaded the orange box, GTA and countless other games and was happy as could be with my virtual store. It’s renowned for good prices and service. Years down the line Steam announced that they would be bringing the platform to Mac. By this point I had Two MacBook Pro’s that were my most powerful machines for on the road so I thought I’d give the Mac client a go. To my surprise all the games that were available for Mac that I had bought on the PC automatically started downloading. I didn’t have to buy them again because I’d changed operating system and quite rightly so. I’d already paid for the game and Valve were willing to honor that regardless of what operating system I chose to use. They are also working on a Linux client as I write this which furthers my respect for them.
Then we have Kindle. I can read my Kindle books on iOS, Windows, Unix, Linux, Mac OSX, Kindles, Androids etc. There is literally a never ending list of places I can read my books that I buy from Kindle and that is the best option for me as a consumer. Amazon have also recently announced that if you have bought a CD from them before, they will make the MP3 equivalents of the tracks available on their cloud player. Simply fantastic customer service and an enticement to shop with them.
The reason this is occurring in my opinion is because Google and Microsoft want to take the Apple approach to life. They want complete control over their ecosystems. They want to be making money of distributing other developers software, they want to be there from the start to the finish. Companies like Amazon and Valve are making their services better to compete. Valve’s Gabe Newell has openly spoke out against Windows 8 and suggests it will kill the PC gaming market. The eco-systems we use are becoming more closed and the only option is for consumers to use services that are not linked to the OS. Steam is great for big screen gaming but it wouldn’t solve my Worms 2 problem because iOS would never allow another Application distribution method to be accepted into it’s store and therefore never get to the mainstream public. Android users fair a little better as the operating system is open and you don’t have to go through Google’s Play to download everything. A chance of a Steam on Android is way higher than on iOS. Maybe in the future the closed operating systems of Apple will come back to haunt it.
Whilst I’m almost certain we will never see a true fully cross platform media and content store there are solutions. One that exists now and one I hope to exist as soon as this is widely regarded as a problem. The first is that you should always use a service (where possible) that is not connected to anything such as operating system. Buy your music on a CD or from Amazon or subscribe to Spotify. Get your movies from Netflix or LOVEFilm or download MP4’s from a legal distribution system and sync them to devices manually. Your Games, for PC/Mac/Linux use Steam. It’s the best there is. For books, use Kindle. As much as Amazon has had a monopoly on the book market for ages it’s the best distribution method available for being able to platform independent.
In the future, I suggest a global code for every game. Something along the lines of what we used to get with our PC Games and Software in the pre-DRM days that when typed in on an App store or website releases the download regardless of platform. That or simply make absolute every application free. Then people who have paid for an application will have a legitimate log-in and can log in on first opening on the app. Regardless of what device they are on. They will have paid for it at some point.