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European and Japanese devs proactively capping in-app spending by minors

Tecmo Koei, Big Bit and GungHo Online are restricting the amount of real money a player can spend in their games based on age, presumably in an effort to steer clear of legal trouble down the road.

Alex Wawro, Contributor

December 6, 2013

2 Min Read

There’s been a fair bit of news today about developers voluntarily setting age limits on in-app purchases, presumably in an attempt to mollify growing concerns that young people are being manipulated by freemium games into spending unseemly amounts of money on things like coin doublers or XP boosts. First came a report from Siliconera that Tecmo Koei will be implementing monthly limits on in-game purchases in social and online games based on a player’s age. These limits will go into effect sometime this year and prevent players under the age of 16 from spending more than 5,000 yen (roughly $50 US) per account per month, while those between the ages of 16 and 19 will have their monthly spending capped at 20,000 yen (nearly $200 US) per month. Anyone over the age of 19 is presumed to be mature enough to spend what they like and can pay without limits, which makes sense given that 20 is the age of majority in Japan. Then a screenshot surfaced on the Book of Revenant tumblr showing what appears to be an in-game notification from the Japanese version of mobile money-making machine Puzzles & Dragons that outlines a remarkably similar series of payment limits based on age. Neither Puzzle & Dragons developer GungHo Online nor Tecmo Koei seem to have a clear strategy in place for preventing players from just circumventing the limits by lying, though the Puzzle & Dragons notification does appear to include an earnest entreaty for players to be honest about their age. Eurogamer did a good bit of follow-up reporting on the Tecmo Koei news, speaking to UK developer Big Bit about the unique pay cap in their spendthrift-friendly game The Snowman and The Snowdogg. It’s a free endless runner on iOS that lets you purchase upgrades with real money, up to a limit of £20 -- once a player hits that limit, everything in the game unlocks and you simply can’t put any more money in. Eurogamer reports that Big Bit implemented the de facto spending cap to ensure the game doesn’t run afoul of the U.K.’s Office of Fair Trading, especially in light of their ongoing efforts to crack down on apps with overly manipulative in-app payment schemes. These developers are volunteering to implement in-app spending caps as much to avoid running afoul of governing bodies like the OFT or the Japanese Consumer Affairs Agency as to keep young players from blowing their savings on freemium games. It begs the question of whether or not U.S. regulators like the FTC might ever consider taking similar steps to regulate the IAP market, especially in light of Apple's decision earlier this year to reimburse parents who sued the company to recoup the millions of dollars their children had spent in Capcom's infamous Smurfs Village mobile game.

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