In pictures: the most expensive iOS in-app purchases

Warn your kids (and your bank manager) about these incredibly costly IAPs in iPhone apps and games

We count down the 5 most expensive individual in-app items we've seen in iPhone apps and games.

One of the best things about iPhone & iPad apps is that they're cheap. PC owners routinely spend £15 to £30 on a single game (and console gamers are often charged £40 a time), while desktop software packages are frequently more than £20. But a £4.99 iPad or iPhone app is considered pretty expensive, and there's a huge selection of titles for a couple of quid - or even for free.

But the dark side of this apparent generosity on the part of the software publishers is the in-app purchase, which for many apps and games is the part of the equation that makes the real money. Many games in particular operate a 'freemium' model, in which the initial download costs nothing but a host of extras (for additional characters, levels or features, or to skip tedious waiting periods built in to encourage you to crack open your wallet) cost you anywhere from 69p to a few quid or, in some unusual cases, even more.

We decided to count down the 5 most expensive individual in-app items we've seen in iPhone apps and games. Our rule was that it has to be a tangible item, feature or character, rather than simply an injection of in-game currency. For items bought with in-game currency we've tried to approximate the monetary value for comparative purposes.

5. Princess Celestia - My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (£44.33)

Did you know that a big proportion of My Little Pony fans are adult males? Surprising (they are known as Bronies), but a nice fan base to have when it comes to in-app purchases on the tie-in iOS game.

There are loads of ponies to unlock in this smartly realised freemium title - a number of them based on parody and fan-fiction characters from the Brony community - but to get the lot would take months of work. Or the injection of some cash. The costliest pony available is Princess Celestia, whose price in gems (950) translates into about £44.33.

4. Koenigsegg Agera R - Real Racing 3 (£55.99)

Real Racing 3 was the third instalment in a noble racing series, boasting beautiful visuals and gameplay that many loved (although there was some debate over the quality of the handling). Less pleasingly, it was the first in the series to operate a freemium model, with the initial download free but most of the unlocks demanding either long-winded grinding or the purchase of 'gold' with real-world cash.

The most expensive car in the game clocked in at 800 gold; a pack of 1,000 gold sets you back £69.99, so by our calculations the Koenigsegg Agera R is worth £55.99.

3. God mode - Super Monster Bros by Adventure Time Pocket Free ($99.99)

Tip of the hat to IGN for discovering this execrable example of the ripoff merchant's art. There are games that offer more expensive individual in-app purchases, but few can be so shameless.

Of the six playable characters, one is (or perhaps we should say 'was', since it seems - happily - to have been taken down) available for free; the others cost anywhere from $4.99 to an utterly astonishing $99.99. You get a limited number of fireball-style ranged attacks, and topping up your supply costs $0.99 a time; and when you die the game offers a sort of God mode cheat (attacks and energy are set to infinity, it seems) that'll also set you back $99.99.

Infinite jump, HP and ammo? Why yes, that sounds delightful...

*Cough* $99.99 *cough*

In gameplay terms it's total tripe, too: the most appallingly basic and derivative platform game drivel, with gaps you can't fall down, feeble effects, and visuals and sounds that seem to have been lifted wholesale from other games. Since it no longer seems to be available, enjoy the full horror in IGN's video review.

iPad & iPhone app reviews

2. Apathy Bear - Gun Bros (£394)

Sometimes an app can disguise how expensive an upgrade is by charging in-app currency for it, instead of real money: hey, that's not expensive, it's only 30 Magic Coins. But if the in-app currency is itself for sale - and if the game makes it difficult to earn enough currency to pay for its best gear - then you can easily find yourself paying through the nose.

Gun Bros is a perfectly fun little multiplayer shooting game, but it's notorious for its extravagantly named and extravagantly priced weaponry upgrades. Currently the most costly piece of firepower is called the Apathy Bear ("This gun filters a child's love through a screen of inverse anti-matter sub-particles, killing your enemies with the most adorable haemorrhages imaginable"), which costs 3,999 'War Bucks'; this took top spot from the Kraken gun, a snip at 3,499 War Bucks.

To give you a feel for the prices, the game gives you 3 War Bucks to get started with.

You can earn War Bucks in-game, but it's a slow process. Or you can buy them as in-app purchases. A pack of 710 costs £69.99, making the Apathy Bear worth about £394.

(We've been playing the sequel, Gun Bros 2, incidentally, to see if there are any similar bargains. But the costliest we've seen so far is a pair of pistols called Sharkettes, which are worth about £252.)

1. Diamond Chisel - Curiosity - What's inside the Cube? (£47,000)

Peter Molyneux, the legendary game designer whose glorious, wayward ideas are the subject of a nice Twitter parody account, most recently expressed his unique vision for gaming in the form of Curiosity - What's inside the Cube?, an iOS game/social experiment/ingenious extended marketing stunt.

Lots of people pointed out that the free app really just involved clicking pixels on the surface of a black cube, but they still queued up to play nonetheless. It was based on the oldest narrative device in the book: unlocking a mystery. Each layer of pixels removed by the participants revealed something new, and right at the inside lay the final secret, which Molyneux promised would be a life-changing experience for the first person to see it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that Molyneux had said the game was "a test about the psychology of monetisation", there were in-app purchases. And one of them was as far we're aware the most expensive bonus item yet seen in an iOS app. The diamond chisel, which increased the player's tapping strength by a factor of 100,000, cost an astonishing three billion in-game coins, which translates to £47,000.

The lucky winner made it through to the core a few weeks ago (cruelly, we hear that the triumphant individual had only started taking part the day before). The life-changing reward? To be the god figure in Molyneux's next game, deciding how it plays out and how the world develops. And, we think, getting some cash too. Hopefully enough to pay for a few diamond chisels.

"The reward is the friends you made along the way!"

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Tags iPadsmartphonestabletsiPhonehardware systemsconsumer electronics

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David Price

Macworld U.K.
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