ACCAN Zaps 'Freemium' Game Apps

Freemium game apps are the bane of parents and careless gamers everywhere — what seems to be "free" can quickly rack up a sizable bill through in-app transactions for additional items and content. It's an insidious practice, especially in games aimed at young kids, and ACCAN wants to put a stop to it.

The telecommunications consumer watchdog has called on the ACCC to take action against apps that are advertised as free despite aggressively advertising in-app purchases which are often required to play the game effectively.

"It’s not OK to advertise a game as free and then structure the game so the user must pay to keep playing," said ACCAN Policy and Campaigns Officer Erin Turner.

"All consumers, but especially parents looking to purchase appropriate games for their children, should be able to trust information provided about an app. At the moment this is not happening and it needs to change."

ACCAN singled out The Simpsons: Tapped Out, The Hobbit: Kingdoms, and Tap Paradise Cove in its complaint to the ACCC; all of which are advertised as being suitable for pre-teen gamers.

One specific example flagged by ACCAN involved players of The Simpsons: Tapped Out being forced to wait 90 days for a game event to occur — or they could pay $48.58 to access the event straight away (the money is referred to as "doughnuts" in the game). Similar wait-or-pay mechanics were also found in Tap Paradise Cove.

"Without paying money you could play for only a few minutes before having to set the game aside for hours or even days. Parents beware; these kinds of games are encouraging your children to spend hundreds of dollars on digital content," Turner said.

In its submission to the ACCC, ACCAN suggests that all apps should be required to include an infographic informing the user of any potential costs involved in playing the game. App stores such as Google Play should also take responsibility for accepting and resolving complaints about apps purchased through their Australian stores, ACCAN said.

You can read the full submission to the ACCC at the ACCAN website.

Do you think stricter guidelines need to be put in place when it comes to in-app purchases? Or do consumers simply need to exhibit some common sense? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Comments

    Laws need to be in place NOW because this will no doubt happen on the coming consoles as well.

    While I agree that some (or most) games in this genre are a little underhanded, I feel the need to point out a few things about Simpsons: Tapped Out. I have been playing for a few months now, and have reached the point where I am waiting on a content update for new tasks.

    The 90 day event is a choice. It's planting corn on Cletus' farm. It is not a requirement of the game that you plant it and wait. At no time has my progress in the game required me to use this action. Most other actions vary from 6 seconds through to 24 hours. Some go as high as 16 hours. You can comfortably play this game without spending any money whatsoever.

    I know that not all games take this tack, and I support any action to ensure that people are more informed, however I do not believe that The Simpsons: Tapped Out should be included in this.

      The problem is that these games are seemingly targeted at younger audiences, which don't have the same grasp of logic in regards to in app purchases and the connection between the "virtual currency" in the games and real money.

      Part of the responsibility for this though should fall on the parents, if you let your kids play with your phone, try and stop them being able to make purchases if you can: i'm pretty sure you can disable in app purchases on IOS, and you can pin lock them on Android and Windows Phone 8. Sure its a minor annoyance for yourself, but its less of an annoyance than a massive credit card bill because children have been buying "coins" or "doughnuts" or "smurfberries" or whatever.

        I agree that something should be done about games that use the wait-or-pay mechanic, I merely argue that The Simpsons: Tapped Out does not. You do not have to perform this action, therefore you are not being forced to pay. In many games you are forced, since you cannot continue beyond a point without performing a specific action.

        If I were to hand my device (iPad, iPhone, Android etc) to my children, I would use the In-App Purchase locker so they could not purchase things. In instances where such a lock exists and is not used, the fault lies with the parents in my opinion.

          I agree Guybrush - I have been playing Tapped Out for quite some time and am nearly finished the growing corn task..two hours to go! It's a brilliant game for spending a few minutes here and there on, rather than a longer gaming session (where I would probably jump on the PC/XBox/PS3 if I'm at home), with a decent amount of fan service. Although tempting to purchase doughnuts at no stage have I been forced to spend doughtnuts without having them given to me beforehand - in the tutorial section of the game.

          One measure to stop these in-app purchases from occurring would be to force your Google Play password to be entered when making purchases. So long as you don't tell your children your password, no purchases can be made (not to mention if your phone gets stolen). Simples.

      I agree with fancy pants. I have played Tapped Out for a while and it is one of the less pushy games. At one stage Gill appeared trying to sell a large bundle of premium goods for a discounted number of donuts (don't remember the exact number, but it was ridiculously high), but that was months ago and I haven't seen anything too pushy since. I am yet to hit the point where the game is unplayable due to premium content.

      Vigorously agree. Early on, it was very easy to spend donuts accidentally, but EA having been working hard on this. Since the big update last month, you can enable a confirmation dialogue any time you make a donut purchase. You also get a few seconds to cancel a purchase even if you confirm it. The other thing with the 90 day job is that - if you accidentally choose it, you can cancel it by putting the farm back in your inventory, so there's no obligation to use donuts to finish the task.

      I've got 2 games with 2 different Springfields - one where I purchase all the Freemium content (being a big Simpsons fan), and one where I only have free content (because EA's support for the game is pretty crappy, so I want to decrease my profitability to EA). Each one requires a noticeably different play style, and they're both enjoyable.

    I agree, parental responsibility is the key here, it's really not hard to disable in app purchases.

    It's hard to legislate against ignorance and stupidity.

      Easier to tax ignorance and stupidity then to legislate it :)

    Pay 2 Win is a parasitic business model
    It also fosters the mentality that to succeed in life all you need to do is throw money at things.

    This trend needs to be stomped out

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