The new Mac App Store is a very exciting development for Software Developers, especially those of us selling directly to our customers. It offers a Steam-like interface, yet the developer still has the freedom to control their price point and offer updates. Also the Mac App Store is not limited to video-games, and offers a great new opportunity for all sorts of productivity and creative software. It introduces new users to a convenient means of purchasing, downloading and updating their software.
However, this isn’t without its difficulties.
Digital distribution is the most important development for the software industry in recent years, and has allowed new types of product to exist, which otherwise wouldn’t be viable to produce. However, digital distribution is also the means by which piracy is most prevalent.
In turn, this has lead to DRM heavy games (Digital Rights Management / Copy Protection), many of which have a heavy dependency on the service provided by the distributor. Steam is one such example of heavy DRM, which periodically stops you from playing any of your purchased content due to one server problem or another, and Steam is still the least egregious example.
The enemy of piracy is convenience.
Lots of people buy music from iTunes because it is more convenient than pirating it!
Lots of people buy games from Steam because it is more convenient than pirating it!
Lots of people keep their iPhone free from ‘jail-breaking’, and pay for the apps they use, because it’s more convenient than pirating it.
Our best purchasing experiences are through shops we trust enough to keep our credit card details on file. Almost everyone buys products from Amazon, so even if the same item is a pound or two more elsewhere it will take extra time, effort and a certain degree of risk and worry to use the new service. When selling digital downloads directly to a user this is a similar situation, and whilst Paypal has certainly gone some way towards pacifying this experience, you still aren’t guaranteed whether the app will install properly, or whether you have to go through any further annoying steps.
The largest concern remaining is on behalf of the customer, and their freedom to access their purchases in the future.
Recently ‘Outrun Arcade’ was announced to be taken down from the PSN and XBLA stores, because the license with Ferrari had expired. As a customer of this product, it makes me wonder about my options to transfer this item to a new piece of hardware in the future. I can’t download it again, so hopefully I can copy it to an external device and validate it again. Similarly with any content I bought on the Wii, I expect will be difficult (or at least complicated) to transfer to another device.
Software is only available on the App Store so long as developers/publishers maintain their developer membership with Apple. If I were to let my $99/yr membership lapse, people would not be able to download my games anymore. Many people take it for granted that they can access the iPhone apps they bought, and even delete them from their device with the intention of re-downloading, but if that application is no longer available and they have no back-up, then they lose all rights to their purchased software.
Despite the difficulties, the Mac App Store represents a fantastic new step for software developers and consumers, and it should set the stage for Microsoft introducing their attempt at the same thing in Windows 8. It’s a scary and exciting time for everyone.