Help pay for software development with microtransactions: finally, we have solved the issue of “how do we make someone pay full price for a spreadsheet program with no new features for 40 years in a row?“


Most standard “utility” programs (word processors, spreadsheets, photo editors…) haven’t been substantially improved since approximately 2005.

The Issue:

Unfortunately, in order for the companies that sell these programs to survive, they need to somehow get paid. But this is a difficult argument to make when the 1997 version of a spreadsheet program is essentially identical to a 2021 spreadsheet program.


Some developers have solved this issue by only offering their programs on a subscription model—if users can only “rent” software, they’ll have no way to stop paying. But we can go a step further and bring cell phone-style microtransactions (or “in-app purchases”) to ordinary non-game applications.

The proposal is simple: previously-unlimited functionality is now locked behind a consumable resource that costs real money. For example, a user used to be able to make an unlimited number of bold words in a document, but now the user might need to pay 10 cents for each bold word.

This could be applied to nearly every user interface element. Want more fonts? Buy the “Unlock Comic Sans” purchase. Want to undo/redo? Pay a small amount for each mistake (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: By charging the user one “action gem” each time they hit Ctrl–Z, everyone wins: software developers get paid, and users become more careful with their typing.


Consumable resources are a widely adopted method of funding phone games: there is really no reason we can’t bring this same technology to more utilitarian applications as well.

PROS: Charging users for fancy document formatting will encourage a minimalist and non-ostentatious style of formatting, as befitting the true ascetic who has transcended worldly desires.

CONS: Open-source advocates will probably promote free fully-functional software that doesn’t require the purchase of gems to operate, so it’ll be necessary to block this software or make it illegal to offer free software.