It's almost ten years since Apple announced the fateful decision to allow free apps on the iOS App Store to offer in-app purchases.
A decade is a pretty long time in this industry, but it feels bizarrely short when you actually look at it -- this single decision led to free-to-play becoming the dominant paradigm for mobile games and launched a market worth billions of dollars annually. It's hard to imagine mobile games any other way now, and hard to accept that there was a fork in the road just ten years ago that could have taken us in a very different direction.
Or, perhaps it couldn't. There's also a strong argument that Apple was merely bowing to inevitability when it removed the restriction that had allowed only paid-for apps to offer additional purchases. Games on the App Store were already starting to crowd around the $0.99 price point (the lowest you could price something and still offer in-app transactions afterwards), while a frustrating system of offering "Lite" games (essentially demos) that encouraged players to download the $0.99 full title (replete with IAP) had become the default.
There's a strong argument that economic reality drives up-front prices towards zero when distribution costs are effectively removed, and Apple's October 2009 decision was a necessary removal of an artificial barrier which -- though well-intentioned -- was frustrating both developers and consumers alike as they strained to find ways around it.
"Look at the history of how Apple has actively promoted games on its platforms; at every turn it's been trying to find alternatives to F2P"
Whether you believe that Apple made a proactive choice to open the F2P floodgates or merely acknowledged a reality beyond its control, the company radically changed the industry landscape with that move -- a fairly big step for a firm whose actual understanding of video games has, for much of its existence, wavered between "baffled but faintly curious" at best, and "outright eye-rolling dismissal" at worst.
In the following years, Apple has ended up being a major games industry firm almost by accident, and to its credit it has tried hard to catch up -- quietly hiring good people, talking to many of the right people and implementing policies and technologies to make life easier for developers on iOS (and even, once in a blue moon, on MacOS). Yet there's an interesting thread that runs through all of what Apple has done in that time; for all that it's the decision to blow the starting whistle on the F2P arms race that catapulted the company to a prime position in games, and that it's enjoyed huge revenues from its 30% cut as a result, it's never actually seemed entirely comfortable with F2P itself.