And you thought those people who buy things in Farmville were weird. Imagine marketing in-app purchases in games targeted toward the pre-kindergarten crowd. Many parents are discovering the hard way – by finding charges on their credit cards – that at least one game is allowing the chubby little fingers poking at their iPhones to spend real money.
“The Smurfs' Village,” a game app for the iPhone (News - Alert) and other Apple devices, was released a month ago. It quickly became the highest-grossing application in the iTunes store, despite being free to download, according to Associated Press technology writers.
Apparently, just as you can buy tools and gadgets in other gaming applications, the pint-sized users of Smurfs' Village can purchase “Smurfberries,” tokens that speed up the gamers' success. Kelly Rummelhart of Gridley, Calif., told the AP that her biggest worry was that her child would scratch the screen of her iPhone...until she discovered that her four-year-old son unknowingly spent $66.88 on Smurfberries, charges that showed up on Rummelhart's credit card. The “bushels” of Smurfberries that her son bought could have been worse: he might have hit the button to buy a wheelbarrow full to the tune of $60 a pop.
Parents have begun complaining, and Apple's (News - Alert) App Store has been fielding some strong comments. Many have accused the game of being a scam. There are many iPhone games that allow for in-app purchasing, but this is apparently one of the first aimed at tots (though there are two others, “Tap Zoo” and “Bakery Store” where about two taps on the screen can cost you $100). Developers of games with in-app purchase opportunities can now use the iTunes billing system to sell “items” and “equipment.” So far, it has turned out to be a profitable venture for many app developers.
Capcom Entertainment, Inc., the developer of “The Smurfs' Village,” told the AP that inadvertent purchases by children are “lamentable.” The company has promised to include more warnings inside the game (there are warnings on the app purchase page) that let users (and more importantly, parents) know that real money is about to be spent. The game has recently slipped from its top spot in terms of revenue in the Apple App Store to fourth place.
So how does Little Timmy manage to accidentally drop $100 on your iPhone? Due to a tech loophole, according to the AP. “Usually, the purchases require the owner of the device to enter his or her iTunes password. But there is no password challenge if the owner has entered the password in the last 15 minutes for any reason. That means that if a user enters the password for a purchase or a free app upgrade, then hands the phone or iPad over to a kid, the child will not be stopped by a password prompt,” said the article.
Capcom and other game publishers apparently have no control over the 15-minute password-free period, which is set by Apple. For its part, Apple has stood by its system which, it points out, offers the ability for parents to restrict in-app purchases.
So be careful before you drop your iPhone in the hands of your fidgety toddler while standing in line at the bank. Or you may be the proud owner of a giant pile of Smurfberries.Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Tammy Wolf