Should In App Purchases in mobile games be Age restricted?
Mobile gaming, once a genre of polyphonic noise and basic gameplay is fast becoming one of the most accessible ways to play games. Appealing to the “casual gamer” as well as the “hard core”. This means that mobile games are downloaded and played at a much larger scale, than say that of a console or PC.
While a large sum of time is put into creating these games, it seems an even greater amount of time is spent in devising a way to take your money. Pay to Play is a genre in which you buy the product at a low price and have to pay for in game currency. This genre is a major player when it comes to mobile gaming and is in my opinion hard to see why.
Games such as Clash of Clans or Plant vs Zombies 2 will pull the player into a false sense of security by introducing the game as a fun and interesting way to spend ones time by giving us free ammo, Lots of Lives and showing us exactly how to upgrade and “Improve” our gameplay experience. This however is short-lived as we progress past the “Tutorial” we now find that our ammo is no longer free, our lives cost a bomb and upgrading will either take 24 hours unless we pay to speed it up.
This in my opinion is everything that’s wrong with gaming , but I do feel that if you are 16 or older you should be able to decide for yourself if this is wrong. Games such as Clash of Clans are modelled to take your money but you can play them for free as many very, very patient people do. Half of all in-app purchases are made by just 0.15% of mobile gamers according to app testing firm swerve. This shows us that many of us are happy and content not feeding games like this any money what so ever, while some players “whales” will spend thousands per month. Players like this are so important to companies such as king that some company’s hire staff just to accommodate the players who spend thousands.
As crass and manipulating as free to play is, they don’t forcibly take your money. Most likeminded people will just uninstall the game or play for free with not a after taught. But as these games also appeal to children why there are no precautions in place to stop minors from spending money. It is absurd to think that gaming companies view there consumer base as a whole and doesn’t make changes to their plan based on age. Companies exploit children’s inexperience and vulnerability.
But what can we do to crack down on this problem of kids being exposed to inappropriate in app purchasing. Some would argue that kids should not be playing games on phones without parental consent but in this day and age were almost everyone must have a phone this is becoming increasingly difficult.
Knowing your Device
With Android and IOS parents can turn on the parental control and disable the in app purchasing function. In my experience not many parents would have known this function existed. A pop up option before the game starts asking whether you would like to enable this function may help increase awareness to parents.
Devises now ask for a password before an app may be purchased. Once this password is inserted it does not have to be entered again until over a half an hour. This setting can be changed so that the password has to be entered after every purchase but as I said prior not all parents will know about this function.
Informing parents on what kind of games there child should play would prove difficult but I believe and rating system would be incredibly beneficial. This would only allow the game to be downloaded if the person meets the right age requirements. Alternatively an email sent to the owner of the phone telling them that the game they have purchased may have in app purchasing. Informing parents would help prevent this problem.
Steps have been taking
Both Apple and Google have been hit with lawsuits because of in app purchasing in relation to kids. Most recently Google who have been sued by four law firms in America, calming that Google have made it too easy for kids to make unauthorized d in app purchases. The complaint filed went on to state that Googles apps are "highly addictive, designed deliberately so, and tend to compel children playing them to purchase large quantities of game currency," as well as to say Google made millions “with the intent to lure minors to purchase game currency in a manner likely to deceive the public."
It’s everyone’s fault
Blaming the developers and publishers easy as it may be is not entirely correct. Despite undoubtedly deploying cruel tactics we as parents and guardians cannot be exempt from blame.
Should children be allowed to play games on mobile platforms when in order to own a bank account the minimum age is 16! Parents may see no harm in allowing their children to play mobile games but it is becoming more and apparent that in doing so you trust your money to your kids, which is never a good idea.
So Would Age Ratings be a good idea.
Mobile games are rated. They are rated by the ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board). The ESRB look after ratings of games on all platforms alongside PEGI (Pan European Game Information). The popular mobile game Candy Crush Sega which is adored by kids and parents alike has a rating of E. This means that the game is suitable for everyone. If micro transactions are involved shouldn’t the rating be bumped to 16? As the legal age to make micro transactions without a parent is 16.
This may sound harsh as most games like Candy Crush Sega do not portray violence or sex but do require a bank account in a roundabout way.
A rating system would help but would not stop kids from playing games that are rated as mature as parents would still allow them to play if they deemed the game acceptable. I do believe that if apps and games can incorporate in app purchases they can also have a function that disables them.
A kid’s version of these games would allow parents to allow their kids to play these games knowing there is no way that their kids could spend money without their direct permission.
I can understand developers unwillingness to adapt and change their strategy as its proven their current plan is working. Candy Crush makes 850,000$ a figure that is just astonishing. Considering such a large amount of money is being generated daily I see no reason to why they would change their strategy now.
In a perfect world these games would be rated as mature, passwords would be provided for every transaction and kids would simply not be allowed to play. There are many free to play kids games on the market that have no micro transactions or in app purchases. Unfortunately unless a new law is passed limiting the marketing of these games to children I can’t see much changing. Google and others will soon have to change their policy’s regarding their content soon to avoid further legal action. A change of policy will be one small step in what looks like a big problem.