The problem with credits

Jan 04, 2014

Highlighting one of the sneakier sides of design.

Sparked by my previous post, where I went into some detail about the credits model that some services adopt. I will expand on this in a little more detail.

I do understand that some websites need revenue models to keep themselves running. However, there are some problems that come with the credit system. Namely, when you look deeper into the model it can be generalised as being Evil by Design.

In 2011, 8-year-old, Madison Kay ran up a $1,400 bill on the ‘Smurfs Village’ iPad game. She was able to do this by using ‘in-app purchases’ to buy extra tokens to use in the game. These purchases involve exchanging dollars for tokens, to allow the gamer the ability to buy extra items in game.

I thought the app preyed on children
Stephanie Kay, mother of Madison Kay

It is not uncommon, to use a credits/points/Smurfberries system, Nintendo do it, so do Microsoft, and a number of other high profile companies. To use Microsoft and Nintendo as examples, you must first buy a card which contain points (400 to 6,000 for Microsoft, and 1,000, 2,000, or 3,000 for Nintendo), but the value of these cards, and the points do not add up, meaning that you either have to buy another card to pay for the rest of the purchase, or having a lot of unused credits/points on a card.

If individual items cost 79 points, then a 1,000 point card will leave 52 points - insufficient to purchase a thirteenth item, thus requiring purchase of a new card or forfeiture of the remaining points.
Chris Nodder, Evil by Design

Another clever (but evil) part of this model is that you will start to view the points as the value, and not the monetary unit that you paid for these points. Also, with exchange rates 1,600 points in the US will not be worth the same as 1,600 points in the UK. I appreciate that you could change points for ‘pints of milk’, but with it being a digital product that is exactly the same, it somehow feels different.

Interestingly Microsoft is killing off its points system in favour of real world currency, and they will be offering gift cards similar to the way that Apple’s iTunes vouchers work. Is this better? Well, yes and no. People who buy this card will instantly get a clearer grasp on the monetary value of the item that they are buying. However, there will still be unused money left on their gift cards.

Buying and renting videos through Xbox Video
Buying and renting videos through Xbox Video

This model is something that you do encounter away from the screen too. Although I haven’t been to an Ajax game for many years, they certainly did use this method themselves. Although the figures are not exact, an example could be that a bag of fries would cost four points, and a beer four points. The minimum card you could buy would be worth ten points.

For people looking for a quick (if unimaginative) gift, gift cards are perfect. Total gift card sales in the US reached over $100 billion in 2012. For stores, gift cards are a great source of easy income, as many gift cards are either lost or forgotten about every year - it is estimated that every year $6 billion goes unclaimed.

$41 Billion: The total amount of money on gift cards that went, or is likely to go, unspent from 2005 to 2011.
The Wall Street Journal

Kiind have an interesting way of tackling this problem, by making sure that those giving the gift only pay when it has been redeemed.

Ancestry’s subscription model has a number of packages which you can select, Essential, Premium, and Worldwide, these are either monthly or yearly. They also offer a fourth option called “Pay as you go”, which allows twelve record views over the space of two weeks.

Ancestry's packages are clear and easy to understand
Ancestry's packages are clear and easy to understand

Admittedly the latter “Pay as you go” option may still be confusing, but it is almost hidden. The default Premium package offers you two options, one months access for £12.95, and a yearly package for £107.40. There are no mentions of credits or points, and no mention of how many page views you will be allowed. This is a simple, effective and easy to understand subscription model.

In my previous post I undertook a heuristic review of the British Newspaper Archive, and I will return to this here. The credits system would be much easier to understand if a ‘scanned microfilm’ could be valued the same as ‘pages from a paper within the last 107 years’. You could remove the idea of credits altogether by doing this, and base things purely on time, page views, and monetary units.

The current options, and simplified suggestion for the British Newspaper Archive
The current options, and simplified suggestion for the British Newspaper Archive

The maximum page views could be decreased to allow for the differences in the credits system, and this simple change would be more understandable to users of the website. Echoing a quote I made in the previous post, “Users won’t sign up for a site they don’t understand”. By making the change I suggest it will not only make the site more understandable for users, but it could lead to more sign ups, which in turn could lead to more revenue.