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Virtual environments, like Second Life and Blue Mars, are thoroughly reliant on the strength of their digital economies, with the sale and trade of both virtual and non-virtual goods and services between users forming a constant stream of revenue into which the operator can skim in order to pay the bills for the infrastructure that makes it all actually go.

Seeking to extend those virtual environments into other areas, like mobile devices, is only natural – at least insofar as it is technically possible to do so – and in order to maintain the richness of the experience (as well as maintaining the revenue stream for the operator) the economy needs to tag along in some form.

Apple’s new app store rules aren’t going to make that very easy, however.

Apple is currently embroiled with Kindle. Apple wants a 30% cut of all book sales through the iOS Kindle app, or for the book content to be made available through the app-store rather than through the app, which – I believe – brings it that 30% anyway.

Moreover, Apple wants the content-provider to wear the cost, insisting that the 30% slice is not passed on to the customer.

Blue Mars Mobile, being the first of the virtual environments to hit the app store with shopping in place looks to have run smack into Apple’s new app-store regulations. Certainly, I don’t think for a moment that Apple will be concerned about whether virtual marketplace sales are being handled in US Dollars, or any other virtual currency. They’ll want their cut of the value of the sale. That’s certainly clear enough.

Apple’s reasoning is that … well…

“Our philosophy is simple—when Apple brings a new subscriber to the app, Apple earns a 30 percent share; when the publisher brings an existing or new subscriber to the app, the publisher keeps 100 percent and Apple earns nothing,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “All we require is that, if a publisher is making a subscription offer outside of the app, the same (or better) offer be made inside the app, so that customers can easily subscribe with one-click right in the app. We believe that this innovative subscription service will provide publishers with a brand new opportunity to expand digital access to their content onto the iPad, iPod touch and iPhone, delighting both new and existing subscribers.” [There’s also that word ‘delight’ again. Is it just my imagination or is ‘delight’ being used increasingly in the context of customers being “delighted” to hand over their cash?]

Of course Apple insists on handling the payments inside the app, thus getting its cut. It’s no stretch to think that Apple would consider the use of virtual currencies as a way of sidestepping their revenue stream and act accordingly. While Apple’s statement seems to refer solely to ‘subscriptions’, right now Apple targeting Amazon for the Kindle app’s ability to purchase e-books without passing through this particular payment gate, and Sony’s e-reader app was apparently just outright rejected for these same reasons.

I asked Avatar Reality (the operator of Blue Mars) about this topic when I received their press-release earlier today, but Avatar Reality declined to comment on the matter.

Absolutely, anyone designing or intending any form of ongoing monetisation and content sales through app store apps should watch the situation very closely.

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