UK probing iOS in-app game purchases

By , Apr 13, 2013

iOS in-app purchase (teaser)

Are iOS games pressuring children into buying items, sometimes wracking up bills for unsuspecting parents? That’s the focus of a probe underway by the UK government, concerned that in-app purchases may unfairly target children. According to a BBC report, Office of Fair Trading (OFT) wants to hear from parents with the hope games developers will follow laws already on the books to protect children…

“We are concerned that children and their parents could be subject to unfair pressure to purchase,” Cavendish Elithorn, senior director for goods at the agency told BBC News.

Elithorn stressed the OFT doesn’t want to ban in-app purchases within games, however there can be confusion when children and their parents believe games following the freemium model are totally free, whereas in fact they’re enticing users to upgrade their experience through in-app purchases.

The number of cases where children amass huge payments via in-app purchases is unfortunately growing. A boy in Belfast purchased more than $1,500 worth of donuts in a Simpsons game. In another instance, a five-year-old British child playing one game charged nearly $3,000 to his parents.

Although the in-app spending in both cases was refunded, the idea of children making purchases using a service owned by Apple is like blood in the water for lawyers. Another example of the dangers in-app purchasing poses to uninformed users: Gameloft’s free to play Dungeon Hunter 4, basically a hack-and-slash that asks for cash.

Dungeon Hunter 4 (iPad screenshot 001)

Nate Ralph of TechHive vividly explains the problem with the game:

Two minutes: that’s about how long it took before Dungeon Hunter 4’s in-app purchase system first reared its ugly head, with the tutorial explaining that equipment upgrades could be “sped up” by paying a few gems.

Mind you, I wasn’t encouraged to spend any money yet; that wouldn’t happen for another two minutes, once I saw the first “special offer” on a loading screen suggesting I spend some gems on an item (evermind that I hadn’t seen much in the way of action yet).

A minute later came the introduction to the Dungeon Hunter item shop, where I learned all about buying gear (it was on sale!).

Apple is now hoping to settle one class-action lawsuit involving in-app purchases. In another move, the company has made more prominent the App Store warning telling shoppers that a freemium app “offers in-app purchases.”

It also has moved age ratings up to the top of App Store pages.

in app purchase warning

Eliminating such confusion should be a high priority for Apple.

Nearly three-fourth of App Store revenue is generated through in-app purchases, with games the category most likely to offer such feature, according to analytics firm Distimo. Other research found that while Google Play, the Android-based app store, rules the download count game, it is Apple’s App Store that generates the most revenue.

Distimo app stores (in-app)

Additionally, in-app purchases are unlikely to be limited to paid apps. The lower the price of an app, the greater revenue, one study reports.

Potentially spreading the blame beyond the App Store, in March came announcement that you (or your child) may be able to make purchases using your PayPal account in apps that choose to implement the payment method.

Distimo app price changes (chart 001)

But the situation with in-app purchases is not totally in favor of developers.

There is word that app stores may be reaching their maximum occupancy as an increasingly number of entries come from the same publisher.

Finally, if all else fails, here is how to disable in-app purchases, an option Apple would benefit by sharing far and wide.

  • Share:
  • Follow:
  • Kurt

    “Are iOS games pressuring children into buying items, sometimes wracking up bills for unsuspecting parents?”

    Absolutely they are and it clearly works

  • Joe Bobbins

    Just disable in-app purchases if you go in settings>restrictions>in-app purchases!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/joe.jonsen Joe Jonsen

      then the games will suck

      • Joe B

        I mean disable in-app purchases when the kids use the iDevice and re-enable it when you use them.

  • http://twitter.com/Jack_maredit Jackson Grong

    I don’t see where is the problem:
    1. You very well know that you can buy again stuff within 15 min.
    2. You can enable password every time in settings.
    3. You can disable in-app purchases in settings.
    4. You know the app/game have in-app purchases.
    5. Apple refound parent every time this happens.

    • felixtaf

      Exactly… People add their account and credit cards to iPhone, their children will use their phone, their password used by children, their irresponsibility .. yet Apple s to be blamed and sued… Ridiculous…

    • shar

      there are people/parents who barely know how to use the iphone or know what is possible hidden inside apps. every time I open an app or a game and I see an item in in-app-purcases for $99.99 or similar, I would just say why? really why? and for the unsuspecting children with the less tech savvy parents this will soon turn into a disaster. this is on both apple for allowing this in the first place and developers.

  • RarestName

    “It’s okay boy, I’ll just complain to Apple and they’ll give us our money back, so buy as much as you want!”

  • seyss

    IAP ruined iOS gaming!! this is just to show that most developers only care about your cash, not “deliver a great user experience” like the hypocrites devs like to say

  • Joe Bobbins

    You have to admit a kid buying 3000$ of in-app purchases is really funny. Except for the parents obviously.

  • sleeperjoe

    Any parent who thinks a game is pressuring their kid to buy stuff should immediately be taken in for psychological evaluation and the kids given to another family with an ounce of common sense. If your 5 year old child can make $3k in purchases without your knowledge then you are an unfit parent.

    It’s not like apple doesn’t provide tools to restrict your kid on an iDevice.

    The UK gov will want to have probes and claims against Apple but why is no one looking into the welfare of these kids? What else are these parents allowing them unrestricted access to?

  • bloodshed

    who pays for IAP any more lol

  • Techpm

    The OFT makes it very clear they are investigating both Apple and Google’s app stores. They even quote that 80 out of 100 top grossing apps on Android rely on IAP!

    Only regulation of *all* app stores will resolve this, it’s not something Apple can just enforce unilaterally. The game publishers would go mad and probably leave or threaten to leave iOS in favour of other unregulated OSs where they could still extract their millions.

  • http://twitter.com/AlanRoberts1971 Alan Roberts

    I agree that parents need to take more care when allowing children access to these devices. My two children’s iPods have the restrictions enabled, so aren’t able to buy. My concern is the amount these purchases are to actually make games playable. There needs to be limits on how much can be purchased and not a never ending payments just to be able to play a game.

  • Adil Hussain

    It is kinda stupid though….you can disable in-app purchases from your iDevice, problem solved!
    Anyway children are stupid, they’ll spend money on anything to do with games :)

    • http://twitter.com/aidanharris1 ✪ aidan harris ✪

      Children aren’t stupid they’re just manipulated at least that’s what it would appear this report is trying to establish…

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1384316579 Byron C Mayes

        If children are so easily manipulated, then they shouldn’t be given total access to such a complex device as a smartphone. If they don’t have the mental capacity to process IAPs then why is a responsible adult giving them the device unsupervised?

      • http://twitter.com/aidanharris1 ✪ aidan harris ✪

        I kind of agree with you there but not entirely 100%

    • Joe B

      Children are not stupid. They’re just inexperienced.

  • http://twitter.com/rick5up Ricky

    Yeah dungeon hunter 4 is really a great game… Played for 3 hour and realised i need iap. Got the best weapon and armour yet its still hard to win. So without the best equipment you cant win DH4

  • http://twitter.com/aidanharris1 ✪ aidan harris ✪

    To a child this probably doesn’t mean a lot:

    “Two minutes: that’s about how long it took before Dungeon Hunter 4’s in-app purchase system first reared its ugly head, with the tutorial explaining that equipment upgrades could be “sped up” by paying a few gems.

    Mind you, I wasn’t encouraged to spend any money yet; that wouldn’t happen for another two minutes, once I saw the first “special offer” on a loading screen suggesting I spend some gems on an item (evermind that I hadn’t seen much in the way of action yet).

    A minute later came the introduction to the Dungeon Hunter item shop, where I learned all about buying gear (it was on sale!).”

    They’ll see the above and go to buy some gems. Password prompt will show up and parents will most likely think its for something else and input the password. The above probably then happens again within fifteen minutes so the child can then purchase more gems. Whether this is done on purpose or not is another thing though and games developers would probably argue otherwise…

  • felixtaf

    And you will very well kno that ur account was credited X amount of money. Now a days all banks have notification system to moniter account activity. Yet people are stupid, lazy and greedy… Apple must fight them back!

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.jonsen Joe Jonsen

    lol hmm well in dungeon hunter 4 how much would 23,345,234 gems be worth???lolololoololoolooololololoolol

    • Joe B

      A lot.

  • WolfgangHoltz

    About time. Hope they make a law against it, that apply in whole EU.
    Next is to make laws against Apple Store itself.
    Time to shoot that company down

    • Techpm

      How about a law banning idiot trolls from comments sections?

  • BL725

    just install the localiapstore and you are good to go

    • iosPixel

      I’m always in two minds about this. Some devs offer great games where the IAP only serves to enhance the experience and pirating that content is their bread and butter and just plain wrong.

      For me, any game which relies on an IAP to begin your enjoyment rather than further it isn’t worth my storage. If “localiapstore” and its like would force developers away from the freemium model I’m all for it however considering the niche jailbreaking is Its probably doing more harm than good to indie developers. Any big corporation with money would have a dev team dedicated to thwarting these IAP cracks.