Parents sue Apple over addictive, costly games

|

Smurfs’ Village is free to download yet it’s a top-grossing iPhone game because of in-game purchases. (Mashable)

The Smurfs’ Village is a game for the iPhone and other Apple gadgets that’s free to download. But once you start playing the game, you can easily start spending money, big money, on game add-ons. Buying 50 Smurfberries might cost you $4.99 while a wagonful of them costs $100. These pricey power points speed up play and help you build a robust village.

As a writer over at Mashable describes: “Instead of waiting 12 hours to grow watermelons, you can grow them instantly by using one of these berries. Of course, the best way to get your hands on one is to purchase them.”

Usually iTunes purchases require a password but, until just recently, if you entered your password in the past 15 minutes you weren’t required to enter it again to buy the Smurfberries. Yes, warnings popped up telling you about the purchase (thanks to consumers who complained)—but kids ignored these and racked up big bills on their parents’ credit cards.

Last year the Washington Post reported on an 8-year-old girl who amassed a $1,400 bill on her mom’s credit card. Ouch!

Smurfs’ Village, developed by San Francisco-based Capcom, isn’t the only game with in-app purchases. There are others such as “Tap Zoo” and “Bakery Story.” With these you can also easily spend $100 with a few taps of your finger.

Now some parents are angry and they’re suing Apple, according to BBC News.

Apple is asking for the case to be dismissed. They recently added a feature that allows parents to disable in-app purchases. Also, in a recent update to iOS Apple added a requirement for users to re-enter their passwords before making an in-game purchase.

The BBC adds: “In-app payments have been the subject of scrutiny in the US. Last year, the practice was investigated by the US Federal Trade Commission which ruled developers must do more to warn parents about the content of their games.”

But parents are saying this isn’t enough. Kids often know their parents’ passwords and can still make in-game purchases. Also, according to the BBC, “The group of parents, led by attorney Garen Meguerian, said children were still encouraged to buy items by the games’ addictive nature, and parents might not be fully aware of the financial implications.”

Do the parents have a case?

These games are clearly designed to trick consumers into spending money, but I think parents need to be aware of this and be tuned into what kids are doing with their Apple gadgets. You can’t just hook your kid up with Smurfs’ Village and expect the game to be “safe” because it has a kid-friendly name. As parents, it’s our responsibility to read the game description, which will tell you about in-game purchases. And if a game offers in-app purchases, then that game probably isn’t a good one for kids. And most importantly parents shouldn’t be giving their kids their passwords!

That said, I hope the US Federal Trade Commission continues to closely watch these gaming companies and restrict their ability to deceive and rip off customers. Charging $100 for a wagon of virtual Smurfberries is downright ridiculous.

Leave a Reply