Dear Kanye, Yes... Children Shouldn't Be Exploited in Games
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I agree that children shouldn't be exploited in games with in-app purchases. Finding out that my child has racked up in-app purchases while playing games on an iPad would infuriate any parent.
As you said:
I've been following this issue for a few years. In 2013 I wrote this on the subject:
Freemium games depend on "whales," users who make large purchases, for much of their income. A typical title may only have 2 percent to 3 percent of players making purchases. This isn't a problem with social casino games targeted at teens and adults. These are rated at ages 12+ by Apple.
Many children's games, like SpongeBob Moves In, My Little Pony, Skylanders: Lost Islands, and Littlest Pet Shop, offer in-app items as expensive as $99.99. The SpongeBob game (rated ages 4+) isn't even a freemium title, as the download runs $3.99. So even parents trying to avoid free-to-play games can get surprised by these purchases.
The problem today is that apps targeted for 5 year olds are relying on in-app purchases even more so than they did in 2011. The top-grossing children's game category shows 17 out of the top 20 are doing just that.
I just checked the Kids category today, five years old and younger, 16 out of the top 20 grossing apps offer in-app items for sale in the game. While Apple does have excellent parental controls, spending limits etc., not every parent (and probably not Kanye) takes advantage of this.
There is a solution.
The 99¢ Solution (Twitter hashtag #JustSpend99Cents).
There was a time when you paid once for a game. Played it as much as you wanted. Were never asked for more money. For example here's a game I wrote in 1982 (yes, I've been at this for that long).
(According to the US Inflation Calculator, that $30 would be $74.09 today. Ouch.)
Luckily today there are games, children's games, that retail for 99¢. For the price of a cup of coffee at Starbucks, you can buy three of them. And they will never ask your children to spend money in the game. OK some are $2.99 or even $4.99, but you get the picture.
Fun games like this:
(Sago Mini Babies, $2.99)
Or a 99¢ whimsical puzzle game from my company, PlayScreen:
(Pigs A Pop'n: $0.99)
And you know what, just as the music industry responds to popular tastes and demands, the more parents #JustSpend99Cents the more games you'll see that do just that. Make you pay only once, and don't ask for more money from you or your children.
I know most of us in the game industry would prefer this too. Let's make it happen.