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Government Advertising The Almighty Buck United Kingdom Games

UK Gov To Investigate 'Aggressive' In-app Purchases 152

hypnosec writes "The UK Government will be examining whether free to download apps are putting unfair pressure on kids to pay up for additional content within the game through in-app purchases. Office of Fair Trading (OFT), UK, will be carrying out the investigation of games that include 'commercially aggressive' in-app purchases after a number of cases have been reported whereby parents have incurred huge bills after their kids have spent huge amounts on in-app purchases."
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UK Gov To Investigate 'Aggressive' In-app Purchases

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  • Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Saturday April 13, 2013 @04:51AM (#43439297) Homepage

    You mean like a game that lets you make steady progress for a few hours, then suddenly ups the difficulty level to a point where the only way to continue is to pay for something? Few adults can resist, how many kids would be able to?

    • Few adults can resist? The vast majority of people who play these games (Farmville, Angry Birds etc.) never buy any content. The developers are playing the numbers game, it's OK if only a tiny percentage pay if you have more than a million of people playing.

    • Forget that - what about games like Injustice: Gods Among Us which makes it IMPOSSIBLE to continue playing unless you use a consumable to refresh your energy pool (or to stop playing entirely for an hour or more)? And, when I say impossible to continue, I'm not exaggerating - you cannot fight if your characters' energy level is too low and that happens _VERY_ fast (you can find yourself unable to play in ten or fifteen minutes, even with "smart" energy management). It's an awesome game that I enjoy a great

  • by blahplusplus ( 757119 ) on Saturday April 13, 2013 @05:00AM (#43439323)

    ... the gaming industry has turned into a crime syndicate over the last 6-7 years. It's been discusting with the rise of F2P and charging for virtual items in MMO's with both WoW and diablo 3 being among the biggest offenders.

    Reality is we need to crack down on software you can never own and can be "turned off" whenever a company says so. So many older apps/games functionality is fubar because of current anti-customer industry practices. The bad thing is kids and stupid adults feed these companies money year after year.

  • Give kids their own debit cards so they can spend their allowance/paychecks online without risking their family's budget. No need nanny-state crackdowns here.

    • by jewens ( 993139 )
      Part of the difficulty with teaching children how to manage money is the abstraction of value, worth and effort. Adding a additional layer of plastic over the problem will only make it worse. Giving an allowance of real money that they can visually watch diminish as they spend it is a better way for them to learn.
      • Ironically, it could be argued that many of these games do, actually, teach the concept of working to save things so you can buy them... until the kid "cheats" by actually spending their parent's money on "Gold coins" or "Lifestyle Points" or whatever it is that the abstracted difficult-to-raise currency is.
        • by mikael ( 484 )

          "Deerhunter Reloaded" is a good example. You do get an "allowance" of 10 coins/week. But that doesn't really pay for much, just a few rounds of special ammo. In the beginning you are desperate for virtual cash from each hunt, but after a point, all the high end stuff is actually requiring virtual gold coins - infinite life batteries, infinite time scopes. These are priced from 250 to 5000 gold coins. There is absolutely no way you could "save" for these items. The only way is to take the quick way and buy t

  • by ncw ( 59013 ) on Saturday April 13, 2013 @05:06AM (#43439335) Homepage

    My 5 year old son taught me a very important lesson about having a PIN on your payment methods...

    Luckily it only cost me £25 ($40).

    Not being a great reader my son just clicks OK to all the boxes that pop up, so there is great opportunity for game manufacturers to dupe unsuspecting parents into spending lots of their cash.

    It is a one time only scam though which I really should have thought through but I, along with thousands of other hapless parents, have inadvertently contributed to Zepto Labs' coffers.

    Education for parents is the solution IMHO. I got mine the hard way ;-)

    • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Saturday April 13, 2013 @05:29AM (#43439393)

      "Not being a great reader my son just clicks OK ..."

      Isn't that the root of all the problems? Not only payments but also viruses, trojans and other crap.

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        "Not being a great reader my son just clicks OK ..."

        Isn't that the root of all the problems? Not only payments but also viruses, trojans and other crap.

        Well, it's known as the Dancing Pigs [] problem. Basically, anything that gets in a user's way is summarily dealt with. The more desirable the outcome, the more the user will ignore things that get in their way.

        People want to do stuff. The tools they use should accomplish doing that stuff. Like a car is used to get from point A to point B. Now, some users like

    • by jopsen ( 885607 )

      ... It is a one time only scam...

      A scam is essentially criminal enterprise. Just because kids (or parents) don't understand what is going doesn't make it okay to take advantage of them.

      Education for parents is the solution IMHO. I got mine the hard way ;-)

      Education is great at protection people from scams, but it won't even reach a majority of the users.
      These scams should be prosecuted, they create a toxic business environment for everybody who tries build a legitimate business.

  • Isn't part of the problem that most popular tablets/phones are single user only? Android only recently added this feature in 4.2 and iOS is (AFAIK) single user only.

    Having a different login for the kids would solve the problem.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 13, 2013 @05:55AM (#43439439)

    There's a lot of nasty software out there that is specifically targeted at kids and charges huge amounts for ingame items. My kids are at a young age and they simply do not understand the difference between real cash and virtual ingame cash, to them it's all the same. So if an app says 'do you want to buy this for 99,99 euros', they just tap 'yes'.
    What I don't understand is why a parent would give an iPad/Nexus/whatever with a fully accessible master account to a child. On my iPad I just disabled in-app purchases and set password to 'every time' instead of 'once every 15 minutes'. And no app buying or removing either.

  • What is the billing mechanism, anyways? Is it the wireless carrier? I'm an adult, and I wouldn't want that billing "feature" enabled on my phone, just in case I fat-fingered the wrong key.

    • On Apple iOS products, the billing mechanism is whatever you have set up with your iTunes account. It could be a credit card number; it could also be "cash value" added to an iTunes account by using "gift cards" purchased at local brick-and-mortar stores or received as, of course, gifts.
      On Android products, the billing would be through Google Play or through the info passed on by google play to the company or individual who is offering the "app" for purchase.
      • by DogDude ( 805747 )
        Do you need to have an iTunes account to use your iGadgets?
        • Do you need to have an iTunes account to use your iGadgets?

          You can use any iOS device without having any account. You need an iTunes account to buy anything or to get free downloads. However, that account doesn't need any credit card or debit card attached to it, and in that case if there is no money in the account, you just can't buy anything. You can pay in money via giftcards (which is highly recommended because you usually find giftcards sold at less than face value), in which case you can't spend more than the money in your account.

          You still need a password

  • by Sesostris III ( 730910 ) on Saturday April 13, 2013 @06:02AM (#43439463)
    I don't have kids, and I don't have an iPad either. However I do have friends who are, to be blunt, technically naive. It might surprise the Slashdot crowd, but one friend actually went on a work course where they were taught such things as the difference between files and folders! (To be fair the same friend is trying to get more computer literate - she has bought herself "Windows for Dummies" and is studiously working through it. I think she's actually thought of as something of a geek at where she works; she's a qualified midwife and works in a hospital unit for premature babies, so she's not in anyway 'stupid', just not computer literate).

    Anyway, the point is that many would not understand the technology or technological trends in a way that we would on Slashdot. To many a game is a game, whether physical (a board game or card game or some such) or virtual (Solitaire anyone?) Games in the past do not allow you to 'buy extras' mid game, so this behaviour is unexpected. From past experience allowing your child (or mother) to play a game on a computer or iPad would be considered safe - the possibility of actual money being spent would not be considered and therefore not dealt with. To be honest, not being an iPad owner nor a computer game player, I would not be aware of this 'feature' in games - after all I've never seen it in Solitaire!

    So let's not blame the parents. Let's instead blame those taking advantage of the possibilities of new technology and of the naivete of actual users. It is this that's behind the investigated by the OFT.
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Saturday April 13, 2013 @07:38AM (#43439675)

    Usually, I'm the first to cry "no way" if government thinks it needs to butt in with the thinkofthechildren card. But they do have a point here. Game companies are tying to use the naivety and gullibility of kids to squeeze money out of them. And short of 24/7 monitoring, there is little parents can do. More and more games require you to enter a CC number "just in case", so you can play at all. And let's be honest, you can tell your kids 10 times that they must not spend real money, often it's easy to overlook whether you're spending in game or real money on your purchase. It's deliberately done so it's hard for the user to notice, and twice so for kids who don't really have a working concept of the value of money. For a 5 year old, 1, 10 and 100 bucks are just numbers, they don't really know how much is "much" and what is still "little". Not to mention that many little things add up, and kids have even less a concept for that.

    What I would still prefer to a regulation would be some kind of "child friendly environment" ad sticker that gets promoted and that gets handed to games that don't try to rip off kids, as a guideline for parents which games are suitable for their children. Such games would, e.g. offer online purchases only for vouchers instead of CCs for kids under 14, would allow parents a separate login to monitor their kids' spending habits, would constantly show how much money has been spent this month already and would allow parents to set limits to how much their kids may spend per week or month. I could well see something like a "seal of approval" by some child protection group that such games could use to advertise their games, what government should do is either form such a group or endorse a reputable one and advertise that "seal" as a way for parents to discriminate between good and bad games.

  • The UK Government will be examining whether free to download apps are putting unfair pressure on kids to pay up for additional content within the game through in-app purchases.

    Let's help them with that so they can get on with the important job of searching the Pope's quarters for suspicious crucifixes and rosaries...

    0. Kids are generally easier to con and less responsible than adults. That's why we don't let them drive, drink, vote or have credit cards.

    1. Yes - they're disingenuously called "free-to-play" games and every app store is heaving with them. Technically you can enjoy the game without paying, but they're specifically designed to tempt you to open your wallet. Particul

  • by thepacketmaster ( 574632 ) on Saturday April 13, 2013 @10:21AM (#43440213) Homepage Journal
    I agree that some of these games could be excessive if you purchased all the in-game items. I calculated that purchasing each "premium" item at least once could cost between $100 and $500 for Simpsons: Tapped Out. This is very similar to gambling. You can have sensible people that view it as some entertainment and will stop after a limit, or you have the people that don't set limits and lose a lot. With that comparison, kids are protected from gambling so there should be something in place for software companies to protect children. Software companies do need to make money of course, and this method is important because it allows the consumer to try a game before buying/paying for it. It also allows people that don't want to grind to be able to experience the end-game content. I do object to games like Simpsons: Tapped Out that make it next to impossible to ever get premium items without paying, but that's their choice. On the flip side, some responsible parenting would be good too. Teach children the value of money and of working for a reward (in-game or otherwise). Don't give your children access to phones or software that are attached to credit cards or billing accounts. Restrict them to game/gift cards for purchasing content. (perhaps that could be the new currency for allowances?)
  • Just never allow any form of payment on your device. No credit card, no phone billing, no store-bought 'credits', nothing, nada, zilch. This does mean you and those around you can not use a whole range of programs on that device but you'll soon find out you're not missing out on anything at all. Nothing. No bucket of smurfberries ever made anyone a better person. No virtual furniture ever made anyone a happier person. No VIP-badge ever turned someone from self-suggested failure into a social success.

    This is

  • The problem I see is that free games used to be financed by advertisers who wanted their banners seen. But now we have free games with in-app purchases. An example might be a first person shooter game where if you want more than a bow and arrow, you have to buy a gun, and ammo (separately). Or a virtual reality game where you are naked until you buy some clothes. In a early game called, Jones in the Fast Lane, if you waited too long to buy clothes, your avatar ended up sporting a barrel with suspenders. Of

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky