Since in-app purchases was added to iOS (and before that, even), one particular type of game has taken over the app store-freemium games. You get a free game that is free to play, but if you want to buy stuff for the game, speed up earnings etc you have to pay real cash. The problem is that these games often get much more expensive than even console games…especially when kids are involved.
First of all, I play one such game- We Rule. I’ve played it for months now, and I didn’t start paying real money until a month or so into playing it. I’ve bought so many fancy 3D games on iOS- racing games, shooters, etc and I’ve grown bored of them very quickly. I’d rather spend a couple of bucks here and there for a game I actually play daily than spend 10 bucks now and then for new game that I end up hating. I quite like the game because unlike the games I normally play (action games like Call of Duty etc) it’s all at a relaxing pace where you don’t have to worry about someone knifing you in the back of a hurricane coming to destroy what you built. Also, because the game is so profitable. We Rule is updated at least twice a week.
However, my spendings on the game are still very moderate even compared to what a console game cost, and especially compared to what some people end up paying- it’s a game, after all, and I’m not spending all my real cash on that! I’ve seen people say they’ve spent $500 on the game without seeing that as a problem, and when the most expensive in-app purchase is $100 I guess it can add up quickly if you get hooked. You’re only paying for virtual goods, and even though that is basically the definition of any software some of these sums are approaching what you pay for Photoshop.
The real problem is when kids are getting involved. They don’t always know what they’re doing and if they have free access to an iTunes account that is tied to a credit or debit card, things can get really ugly. That is what happened to an 8 year old kid who didn’t realize the purchases were real and ended up spending $1400 on smurfberries in the game Smurf’s Village.
A horde of angry parents are claiming all sorts of things regarding this type of game, saying there aren’t enough safeguards in place etc. You need the iTunes password to make purchases, and there are also several parental control settings available in the settings. The former doesn’t help if the kid has the password (or if the user is still logged on from a previous purchase, since it takes 15 minutes to re-prompt for the password and the latter is something parents might not be aware of.
I, however, am. My dad called me up last year when my little brother bought an iPod touch and asked me about the whole iTunes account thing. I told him to register an account using gift cards, so that no credit or debit card was connected to the account. He did, and that’s still the only way my little brother can add money to his account (he now has an iPad as well). He pays for the gift cards himself or gets them as gifts, and having a limited amount of money to spend which he himself is responsible for has made him quite conservative in buying anything. This is definitely the way to go if you want to be 100% sure your kid can’t run amok with your money. That just leaves all the adults who play these types of games (which also include Farmville, which is the most famous one), and there are actually a lot more of those than you’d think.