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Apple to pay back parents in free-to-play games settlement
Apple to pay back parents in free-to-play games settlement
February 27, 2013 | By Mike Rose

February 27, 2013 | By Mike Rose
More: Smartphone/Tablet, Business/Marketing

A lawsuit filed two years ago against Apple by disgruntled parents who found that their children had accidentally bought in-app purchases in kids' games may finally come to an end later this week -- thanks to a large settlement on Apple's part.

Angry parents claimed that their children were able to buy in-game items without a password for the first 15 minutes after downloading the app, giving young children the chance to buy hundreds of dollars worth of content without their parent's approval.

A U.S. Judge later stated that Apple may have violated consumer protection laws by inappropriately labeling these apps as free.

In a settlement document filed this week, and as reported by the Guardian, Apple has now offered to pay out to all those parents who can show that their child made in-app purchases using iTunes Store or App Store credits, with a settlement figure that could cost the company up to $100 million.

Those cases in which more than $30 in cash was used will also be considered, the filing states.

The settlement, which will only apply to the U.S. if it is approved, will be proposed to a U.S. court of March 1.

One of the most infamous games involved in the in-app purchase saga was Capcom's Smurfs Village, which urged children to buy virtual currency to expand their in-game town. The game's download page now includes a prominent disclaimer to inform parents of its business model.

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Rachel Presser
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I have mixed feelings about this. I believe that the companies that push F2P games out, particularly when marketed to children, need to be upfront about these things, and a password should have DEFINITELY been required to make the purchase. Plus I could rant all day about everything I find wrong with the F2P model; particularly how it seems the case was won by how deceptive the "free" price tag looks.

On the other hand...what kind of message are these parents relaying to their kids? That they don't need to take responsibility as parents, or just in general, so long as there's some big corporation to scapegoat? If they were aware their credit cards were linked to their Apple accounts, why did they give a $400 tablet to an 8-year-old to play with?

Definitely two sides to this.

Mike Griffin
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To babysit their child.
"It's amazing how our little Billy will just sit there and play his iPad for hours on end without needing any guidance from us."

A.k.a. "It's amazing how much free time I get away from watching the kids thanks to my iPad. I trust Apple to look after my child in my absence. What could possibly go wrong?"

OK, so it's not that black and white, but Rachel has a good point. When parents make a stronger effort to actually investigate the video games their child is playing, and how they are playing it, you tend to mitigate problems like in-app purchases gone awry... or even problems like aggressive behavior.

But no, let's just scapegoat corporations, governments, other consumer and political systems, regardless of how hands-off you've been as parent. Your buying power makes you immune to the responsibility of being the caretaker of your child's media experiences! Not really.

On the other hand, I genuinely loathe some of the dubious F2P IAP upgrade methods, and there are many shamefully shallow techniques used to milk cash from the user -- often with less experienced/filtered users in mind, like young ones.

Rachel Presser
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Mike, you hit the nail on the head. THANK YOU, I'm so glad I'm not the only one who can see this.

Seriously, I meet WAY too many of these people who simply don't watch their kids and just expect half the world to be their babysitter. I get that you can't watch what your child is doing 24/7 (and the helicopter parents who attempt to do so are just as bad if not worse!) but seriously, why do they try to shove the responsibility of what their children are allowed to view/play at distributors, publishers, retailers, and developers? Don't ESRB ratings and things like, and just talking to other parents and maybe checking out the media themselves first, have a role in what they let their kids play?

The one thing these parents are right about is that Apple and publishers shouldn't pull this devious crap like not letting you decide your password settings to make a purchase because that is suckering in children who don't know better. But then I've seen these same people lash out at game developers because their kids bought $600 worth of IAPs and figured out the passwords or better yet they never turned the password settings on...what! Not setting a password aside, I'm sorry, but if your child is figuring out your password and joyriding your credit card? That's a problem you need to solve at home, not in a courtroom with one of the largest tech companies in the world.

But whenever I voice these sentiments, these same people just snap at me and say my opinion doesn't matter because I'm only defending my industry and "you don't know because you don't have kids." -_-

Michael van Drempt
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I think the problem described in this article is not, "Oh, what are you playing? God of War-And-Gambling-With-Real-Money? That's fine, honey, here's my password. OMG APPLE IS TO BLAME!"

The problem is that even if a parent took the time to review what their kid was playing, they'd see a cute Smurfs game rated for all ages. It says it's free, and then it goes ahead and charges you hundreds of dollars without asking for your password again. That's misleading to the point of being fraudulent, and I think asking parents to anticipate that kind of crap goes well beyond due diligence. If your app requires the user to have prior knowledge of the free to play model before they can use it responsibly, then that's failing your due diligence as a provider of a product. For at least a small fraction of your players - and that includes parents and their children - your game will be the first exposure to free to play they've ever had. That's a given.

Of course parents need to take responsibility for what they give their kids, but this is about a company that "may have violated consumer protection laws by inappropriately labeling these apps as free", which is fair enough. Apple should give that money back. I understand where the scapegoating concerns come from - and as a parent I agree it's ridiculous that parents behave that way - but I don't think that's what's being described in this article at all.

Rachel Presser
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@Michael Definitely, though I did say there are two sides to this.

I really hate these deceptive practices because they pretty much make the whole industry look bad, and frankly I hope that this case makes companies rethink "F2P is the wave of the future". Take a look at the reviews for many F2P titles-- they're often rife with "I thought this game was free, why is it asking me to put money in?" 1-star reviews. And that's not even getting into some of the purposely deceptive design put into them just to constantly get cash from the user, like Mike above mentioned.

The password protection definitely should've been implemented better, I won't argue that. But for the ones who don't activate those settings on their iPads/have lazy passwords...I already gave my opinion on that!