Recently, my mother was reviewing our bills when a shocked expression occupied her face. I asked what was wrong, and she handed me the documents, pointing midway down the page. What I discovered were over $1000 in iTunes charges, all for an app titled “Mini Pets.”
Upon further investigation, we discovered that my sister, a spritely eight year old equipped with an iPad Mini, had been making regular in-app purchases of “coins” which can be used to be buy upgrades with the game she had been playing. She did this for over a month, some days spending upwards of $250. Indeed, my household has fallen victim to the same problem that has cost so many others enormous sums of money. And, as you might expect, I’m furious.
Pricing models that rely on secondary charges such as in-app purchases have become all too common in the mobile game industry. Often users are coerced into spending far more money than they intended by means of slowing gameplay or making certain tasks extremely difficult without spending money. And, as I learned the hard way, these pricing models can result in children unknowingly wasting huge amounts of money.
Take, for example, Real Racing 3, a mobile racing game developed by EA Games. The game is free to download, but in order to upgrade your vehicle you must wait for specified periods time that increase throughout the game, eventually forcing you to spend hours for just a new set of breaks. Of course, this waiting period can be eliminated with “gems,” which can be bought as an in-app purchase. So, unless you want gameplay to be slowed to a crawl, you’ve got to pay up.
I think its time for this to stop. Game companies are no longer held responsible for their actions, swindling users out of money and getting away with it. Recently, Graham Linehan tweeted that “We don’t have a mobile gaming industry anymore. We have a mobile scamming industry.” Sadly, I agree.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We all must refuse to play games that take advantage of users if we are to stop such behavior. By giving in, we are only encouraging game companies to continue cheating their users.
So if you care about the future of the mobile game industry, join me in protest of EA Games, Miniclip, or any other company that tricks it users. In the meantime, Summer will have to find a less expensive pastime.