App Store network OpenFeint gains micropayments

The popular social network for iPhones is adding micropayments to the mix. What does this mean for Apple's in-app purchase system--and your wallet?

The micropayment ecosystem on Apple's App Store is about to change. California-based Aurora Feint, makers of the OpenFeint iPhone developer platform--which is currently the most popular social-development network on the iPhone, is testing out a new version of OpenFeint, called OpenFeint X (ten) that brings its own microtransactions to the table.

This is notable, in that Apple has kept the bare minimum that users can spend on or within an application at 99 cents. OpenFeint is not trying to get around this policy for in-app payments, but it's giving developers a simple storefront architecture on which to build, as well as a way to socialize those transactions with other OpenFeint users.

OpenFeint X will let developers add virtual goods to their games. Aurora Feint Inc.

In essence, Aurora Feint wants to get people comfortable with handling their transactions and funds within the OpenFeint interface. For app developers, this takes some of the onus off them to have to create complex art assets or a storefront design. Instead, they'll just be able to include it with all the other OpenFeint plug-ins.

Unlike OpenFeint, which is currently available to all developers, OpenFeint X is in private beta testing, meaning that developers will have to pitch their ideas to Aurora Feint to get access to the new parts of the software development kit. Once the first crop of OpenFeint X games has been released, it will be rolled out as the new, standard version of OpenFeint.

Aurora Feint admits that it is following in the footsteps of Zynga, which has built a venerable empire of social games that not only use the microtransaction model, but also manage to work within the confines of Facebook's terms of service. One of the most recent and popular Zynga creations is FarmVille, which offers its users a way to fast-track the gaming experience by spending real money for virtual, in-game currency.

Similar models have cropped up on the iPhone, including NGMoco's Eliminate and Touch Pets, which are free to play, but have the idea of a limited amount of energy or food needed for longer play times. OpenFeint competitor Scoreloop has also has had microtransactions since it launched, though these are used for in-game challenges, not for items within the software.

In a call with CNET, Aurora Feint CEO Jason Citron said OpenFeint X will use a similar "secret sauce" while staying within Apple's stringent no-virtual-currency policy, which can be found in the App Store developer agreement. However, he thinks that Apple may eventually reduce the minimum amount to something developers will be able to sell more easily.

In the meantime, Citron says the current App Store system for spending money--albeit at or above 99 cents--is one of the easiest around. "It's so easy to spend money with in-app purchase," he said. "With other systems, you have to bust out your credit card. It's a total disconnect. People won't do it."

 

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