Apple Not Happy with Game Publisher Over In-App Purchases?

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From a report at Apple Insider yesterday:

Apple has reportedly had "strong words" with publisher Capcom about in-app purchases in the free iPhone and iPad children’s game "Smurfs’ Village," and is said to be considering adjusting iTunes account login times after receiving complaints from parents.

Citing a "well placed source," reported Wednesday that Apple has taken notice of "accidental" in-app purchases of Capcom’s "Smurfs’ Village." As of Wednesday, the free application, last updated Feb. 4, ranked third among the "Top Grossing" applications on the iPhone App Store.

"Apple has told Capcom in no uncertain terms that its freemium children’s game has been causing problems with an increasingly significant number of parents who have complained that their children have been racking up large amounts of in-app purchases without their knowledge," the report said.

I’m not at all surprised that this sort of issue is making waves in the App Store. In-App purchases – especially in games such as this one aimed at young kids – have always seemed like trouble waiting to happen. I’ve also seen this problem first-hand, as my wife and I initially tried the honor system with our daughter (she’s only 7.5 years old) in her usage of an iPod Touch and an iPad she shares with her mom. We set out some clear guidelines for her – that included making In-App purchases forbidden – but we still had a couple of slipups. Slipups that lead to silly amounts of money being spent on ‘mojo’ and the like in games that make it easy to buy your way up through their levels.

Slipups are relatively easy for kids to make if you don’t lock things down well enough on your iOS devices. Just as one example, many kids discover (as our daughter did) that when a parent logs into the App Store, the password stays usable for around 15 minutes – and that’s a perfect time to slip in some extra purchases without having to ask mom or dad to login.

To be fair to the publishers of Smurf’s Village, their app does offer clear warnings – right at the top of their App Store page – that real money is charged for In-App purchases within the game.

PLEASE NOTE: Smurf Village is free to play, but charges real money for additional in-app content. You may lock out the ability to purchase in-app content by adjusting your device’s settings.

So it’s hard to see Apple coming down too hard on this app in particular, or others with similar In-App purchase offerings. Having said that, it still seems ridiculous that a game aimed at young kids offers In-App purchase items priced like those in Smurfs’ Village – $29.99. $49.99, $59.99, and even $99.99 for ‘smurfberries’. That’s outrageous.

Since it’s unlikely that expensive In-App purchase items are going anywhere, the best method to avoid your kids running up crazy amounts on them is to just disable them via Settings – see here for quick, easy steps to do this – and of course to keep an eye on them, stay involved with what they’re doing on their iDevices. And make regular checks on what they’ve got on them.

Those of you who have kids – have you had any problems with In-App purchases? Or similar App Store mishaps? What have you done to keep your kids on the App Store straight and narrow?

Patrick Jordan

Founder and Editor in Chief of iPad Insight. Husband, father to a lovely daughter, Commander of the Armies of the North, dog lover (especially Labs), Austinite, former Londoner, IT consultant, huge sports nut, iPad and mobile tech blogger, mobile apps junkie.

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4 thoughts on “Apple Not Happy with Game Publisher Over In-App Purchases?”

  1. I’ve just discovered that my son has downloaded trunkfuls of coins on the zoo game at £59.99 a go – wiping out 2 weeks salary in only a few short days. This is the same story, a ‘free app’ that relatively quickly goes to huge money – without my knowledge. I’ve now put a stop on my card in desperation. However, I will be having words with apple. Is there any chance of a refund, or is this one down to experience. Sadly, the parents are less techy than the kids, and I honestly believed that the password system would protect us from this. I feel this is verging on fraudulent – given that these games are aimed at kids, perhaps it needs to be looked into.

  2. My 3 year old just ordered 99.00 of coins on tinyzoo which was supposed be a “free” game with an in-app purchase. No where in the description of the game does it mention that there are in-app purchases in this game.

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