Mobile Games: Apple shells out after children’s spending sprees

POSTED BY Analyst Team
Apple’s iTunes has recently hit the headlines after refunding the parents of a British boy who spent £1,700 ($2,550) making in-app purchases whilst playing Zombies vs. Ninjas on his parents’ iPad. The game itself is an example of a freemium game, which is free to download but requires in-game items and virtual currencies to progress, which come at either a monetary or timely cost. Gamers are frequently reminded, encouraged even, to make these in-app purchases, which raises the question is it ethical to make games which target children that encourage so many purchases?

The setup of Apple’s operating system means that when the passcode is entered, there is a 15-minute window until it needs to be entered again, a window which numerous purchases can be made within. However this can be disabled so that every purchase requires the passcode to be entered. In addition to this, the iOS 6 update came with the ‘guided access’ feature, which if enabled means an app can’t be exited and areas or features within an app can be disabled. However this can seem a bit cumbersome to parents who are not tech-savvy, when compared with other devices such as the Windows Phone or PlayMG. The Kids Corner in Windows Phone 8 is a separate start screen allowing children to access apps selected by their parents simply by swiping across from the lock screen. By default, children will be unable to make in-app purchases. The PlayMG is an entirely separate device, which runs on the Android OS but designed for children to only play games on. It has a ‘digital wallet’, which means parents can load the device with a certain amount of credit for their children to make in-app purchases with. And putting these devices aside, there is also software such as the app Kid Mode for Android, which was developed by Zoodles. It lets children play games which are appropriate to their age limit and comes with an optional ‘child lock’ feature.

So whilst the security versus convenience debate continues and solutions to this problem are sought, Apple will continue to pay back parents whose children have racked up bills without their knowledge. This is after a judge ruled on the 2011 lawsuit, which arose after parents complained at the ease with which children could make in-app purchases. Apple is now required to notify its U.S. iTunes users that they may be entitled to a $5 iTunes gift card, or a cash refund if they spent more than $30.

The choice of apps in the iTunes store is overwhelming and it is unsurprising that so many offer in-app purchases, as they offer an alternative revenue stream for developers, and consumers can choose whether to spend or not. The report Mobile & Tablet Games: Discovery, In-App Purchasing and Advertising goes into further detail on the amount of revenue spent in different genres and regions. It is a win-win situation when gamers consider they are getting an app for free (albeit with advertising), subsidised by those who willingly spend on in-game items and virtual currency. Many of us know that if we are bored of a game or feel as though we have exhausted the options for a game without making a purchase, another casual game is merely a visit to the App Store away.