Across the country, parents are shocked to find that their kids have unknowingly been racking up charges on their free IPhone and iPad app games.
” ‘The Smurfs’ Village,’ a game for the iPhone and other Apple gadgets, was released a month ago and quickly became the highest-grossing application in the iTunes store. Yet it’s free to download.”
“So where does the money come from? Kelly Rummelhart of Gridley, Calif., has part of the answer. Her 4-year-old son was using her iPad to play the game and racked up $66.88 in charges on her credit card without knowing what he was doing.”
“Rummelhart had no idea that it was possible to buy things — buy them with real money — inside the game. In this case, her son bought one bushel and 11 buckets of “Smurfberries,” tokens that speed up gameplay.”
” ‘Really, my biggest concern was them scratching the screen. Never in my wildest dreams did I think they would be charging things on it,’ the 36-year-old mother said.”
“She counts herself lucky that her son didn’t start tapping on another purchase button, like the ‘wheelbarrow’ of Smurfberries for $59.99.”
“Rummelhart joins a number of parents who have been horrified by purchases of Smurfberries and other virtual items in top App Store games. The 17 highest-rated comments on “The Smurfs’ Village” in the App Store all complain about the high cost of the Smurfberries, and two commenters call it a ’scam.’ ”
“Apple introduced “in-app purchases” last year, letting developers use the iTunes billing system to sell items and add-ons in their games and applications.”
“This year, developers have started to use the system in earnest as the main revenue stream for many games. Of the 10 highest-grossing apps in the App Store, six are games that are free to download but allow in-app purchases. Four of those are easy, child-friendly games. Two of them, “Tap Zoo” and “Bakery Story,” have buttons for in-app purchases of $100 in just two taps.”
So this is how the charges end up on the bill:
“Usually, the purchases require the owner of the device to enter his or her iTunes password. But there is no password challenge if the owner has entered the password in the last 15 minutes for any reason. That means that if a user enters the password for a purchase or a free app upgrade, then hands the phone or iPad over to a kid, the child will not be stopped by a password prompt.”
“Capcom and other game publishers have no control over the 15-minute password-free period, which is set by Apple.”
“Apple defends its system. Spokeswoman Trudy Muller says the password system is adequate and points out that parents can restrict in-app purchases. The parents contacted for the story received refunds from Apple after complaining, and praised the company’s responsiveness.”
This is not a new story just a slightly different technology on the iPad allowing kids to have access to your credit cards. (Parents would leave credit cards numbers in their computer for quick online purchases in the past and then kids would end up charging things.)
We have a friend in the video game industry who explained to us once that “micro-transactions’ are the future of making money in video games. People don’t think much about forking over $2 or $5 or $10 for extra pieces, extra power, extra stuff in a game – but all that adds up for the game makers.
A few years ago Club Penguin was the in-game with micro-transactions. Oh they can play for free, but to get the cool stuff for their igloos and their penguins they need a little bit of money, oh and then a little bit more.
Even adults fall prey to the micro-transaction. Michael kept buying stuff through the X-Box for his games. And my brother does it too.
The other day my 7-year-old (who reads quite well) told me that the Lego site was letting you design your own Lego creation online and then they were sending it to you for FREE! Well of course I knew that wasn’t true. When I finally sat down to look at it with him, he had designed 25 different sets and had it all in his shopping cart ready to ship! Thank goodness I don’t keep my credit card number in the computer because he also had a charge of more than $5,000!!! for the Lego creations. But he was right about the FREE part – the shipping was free. I guess so if we spend $5,000. The shipping part was right there up front and obvious and said FREE and that’s all he kept seeing.
Parents: Are you aware of micro-transactions? Are you aware of the iPad, iPhone 15-minute password save that would let your child charge? Do you leave your credit card number in the computer for easy online purchases? Have you had a problem with unexpected game charges from kids? Will you explain micro-transactions to your kids?