We’ve all been there before. We’re stuck with a kid who can’t stop whining about being bored, needing food, or craving the love and discipline of an adult. So to get them to shut up we hand them our iphone/ ipod/whatever electronic device and tell them to play something so we can shut them up. We get a few hours a of peace, and then suffer from a few hours of abject horror when we get our monthly bill. We see that little Johnny spent $600 on smurf berries, and that a Steve Jobs clone is coming to punch our teeth down your throat if we don’t pay up.
That story may sound a bit farfetched, but if anything it isn’t insane enough to show the problem some parents were having with their kids finding and using “hidden” in-app purchases. In 2011 Stephanie Kay was taken aback when she received a bill for $1400 from Apple in her inbox, and was presumably even more shocked when she realized that the bill wasn’t a bizarre prank. Her 8 year old daughter was playing the Capcom game Smurfs’ Village, a game that her mother was able to download for free. Kay wasn’t aware that the manufacturer made the game free, but chose to make certain items in the game cost money. These weren’t little multi-use items that cost under $1.99, this game was happily charging its users $99 for a wagon of smurfberries and $19 for a freaking bucket of snowflakes.
It isn’t exactly news that there are free to play games that charge their users for special in game content, but people were particularly outraged that a game that’s marketed to children could have so many covertly hidden and expensive items. Kay wasn’t the only parent who had lost hundreds of dollars to the smurfs and other cute shovelware games; there were tons of parents that were unknowingly letting their kids play games with absurdly expensive items. Capcom eventually added a disclaimer to the Smurfs’ Village game:
PLEASE NOTE: Smurf Village is free to play, but charges real money for additional in-app content. You may lock out the ability to purchase in-app content by adjusting your device’s settings.
But by the time they had posted it, it was already too late for some people.
Since most apps didn’t require users to re-enter passwords to make in-game purchases, in 2011 rightfully pissed-off parents filled a lawsuit against Apple for making it too easy for kids to purchase in game goods. Apple essentially changed their in-app purchasing systems in March of 2011, but by then most of the damage was already done. In a surprising turn of events Apple ended up settling the lawsuit, but the U.S. district court judge who ruled the case is still ironing out the details.
Essentially users who spent more than $30 in in-app purchases can receive a cash refund after jumping through some hoops, and Apple will be required to notify the 23 million+ iTunes account holders who purchased content from certain games about the settlement. Some people can expect to receive a $5 iTunes gift card for their troubles because Apple feels the need to give their loyal customers one final middle finger.