Reading all the reports in the media about kids making in-app purchases in crazy amounts and surprised parents getting outrages bills, I thought for a second this can happen to me as well. Then, I suddenly remembered that my kid made an accidental in-app purchase without my permission using the credit card I configured in my account. This mistake never repeated, so as a savvy parent and an expert on in-app purchasing in games, I wanted to give you the following golden tips.
Tip 1 – Set a Password for Purchases
This tip is probably the most common and well known one. I have seen this covered in a few posts already. It’s pretty easy to do in iOS from the settings app. Tap ‘General’ then ‘Restrictions’ and ‘Enable Restrictions’. You can block IAP completely, require a password for every purchase with the ‘Immediate’ option or make the device remember the password for 15 minutes if you wish.
While the rage so far has been directed towards Apple, Google Play’s 7x revenue growth is driven mostly by in-app purchase, so it’s only a matter of time until Android users will experience the same issues. On an Android device the way to restrict IAP with a password is through the ‘settings’ option of the Google Play app. simply check the option labeled ‘password’.
Tip 2 – Talk to Your Kids
This should really be the first option for kids that are old enough. However, the talk is not about telling them ‘don’t do it’. You don’t need to be a shrink to understand that this will not achieve anything. Instead, realize that this is actually an opportunity to give your child a valuable lesson about life. First, it’s important to understand that successful in-game economies simulate the real world. These games allow the user to gain coins by working hard, competing, and generally earning them, just like you would do in the real world. When your kid is buying with In-App Purchase, he is bypassing that and getting coins he didn’t earn. This will result in the game becoming unchallenging and less fun or it might result in the game becoming harder and just as challenging but in both cases it wouldn’t become more fun by buying that item. There will also be no sense of achievement by buying the item if you didn’t earn the coins. Have the talk, and then you might want to set a guideline that if the kid can explain why the game will be more fun with the In-App Purchase he can buy it up to a certain allowance per month.
Tip 3 – Get Notified
While Apple and Google don’t notify the account owner for In-App transactions (they should) and don’t allow you to review the purchase history for IAP activity (they should), the credit card companies usually have these features. You can set a Text/SMS or email alert for any online transaction, and in most cases, you can set up an alert for a specific business. The last option might require you to call your card customer service number and ask for it.
Tip 4 – Be Informed
Apple recently added a page called “learned about in-app purchases” and the “offers in-app purchases” label for freemium apps. This is good, but most apps today include in-app purchases, so it doesn’t help much. What’s more important is to realize the difference between apps that sell coins and those who sell upgrades. You kid will not be able to reach a $5,000 bill by upgrading their game but they might if they pay a game that allows buying coins. iTunes allows you to see what kind of In-App Purchases are popular with that game. A game that offers coins, gems, cash, or bucks is a game to keep an eye on. If the game also makes it to the Top Grossing charts it’s probably another indication that you should proceed with caution.
While in-game economies are a critical part of most engaging mobile games they require parental guidance for children. Apple and Google should either improve their offering in this front or allow third parties to introduce dedicated billing options for kids that include parental controls.