In-app purchases - two sides to every story

I recently read an interesting story of a mother of a 12 year old boy, who is facing a £7,000 bill - a bill he inadvertently ran up by playing a popular online game on his mobile phone. Mrs Cox told the BBC that neither she nor her son were given any warning about the charges, incurred from purchases within the game application.

The situation arose when Mrs Cox’s son bought two add-ons within the game ‘Clash of the Clans’, which cost £5.98 in total; however, these transactions triggered a permissions setting that, from then on, allowed the phone to continue make in-app. purchases automatically - at a staggering rate of £240 per day.

Mrs Cox claimed that safeguards against such purchases were not in place and that firms offering apps should review procedures “…and forget making a profit from vulnerable people”.

A games expert stated, however, that there would have been an email receipt sent to the Google account that is registered on the phone. He also stated that there would also have been a warning when the game was initially downloaded and that on each occasion a purchase was made there would have been a request for an approval.

What this unfortunate story highlights is the obvious need for parents to be acutely vigilant of what their children are doing on their personal electronic devices and monitor their actions and behaviour. Now, teenagers may find this annoying and object to their ‘privacy’ being invaded, but this is just the same as wanting to know who they are hanging around with or setting a time when they should be home by - it’s called good parenting, the only difference being that it requires parents to realise that they need to talk to their children about their online activities and have an on-going understanding of the technological age that they are growing up in.

Having just read the above story, you may have formed the opinion that in-app purchases within children’s apps, such as games, are undoubtedly a bad thing and should be banned outright. Indeed, read most articles within the popular press about this controversial subject and you would quickly realise that you were not alone.

There is, however, another side to this story.

Recently, British publisher ‘Nosy Crow’ released an iPhone/iPad app called ‘Nosy Crow Jigsaws’, which is a collection of digital jigsaws based on artwork from the company’s own books and apps. Now, this app is a ‘freemium’ app - that is it is free to download but users have to buy packs of puzzles, via in-app purchases. This is, however, where Nosy Crow have been careful and have demonstrated a responsible awareness of the problems associated with in-app purchases in children’s apps.

When parents download the app, they get five free puzzles as well as others based on the company’s fairy tale apps. They are then offered the options of either purchasing packs of 10 puzzles at a time for £0.69 or unlocking the whole collection of 200 puzzles for £6.99. Setting an upper limit to unlocking the whole contents of a game/app is completely contrary to the usual business strategies of the freemium games industry, where publishers gain significant profit from heavy-spending users, but the company believes that offering the cap is a responsible approach and have gone as far as to purposefully not offer common game ‘rewards’ such as tokens or ‘gold coins’, which they believe confuse children as to whether or not they are spending real money.

What this highlights is a major dilemma for app development companies who specialise in mobile software aimed at children. On the one hand, these companies have to be sustainable and hence have profitable business strategies, but on the other, they wish to appear responsible and not be caught up in a situation such as the one described by Mrs Cox.

Up to now, this dilemma has not been resolved, so, until the app industry can consistently demonstrate a responsible approach to ‘freemium’ apps aimed at children, it remains the parent’s responsibility to constantly observe what their children are doing, not only on their computers, but on their mobile phones and tablets, to ensure that their enthusiasm for playing the game is not clouding their awareness and hence causing them to be duped into running up huge bills by making in-app purchases.



In a related news story recently, it was reported that Google is to pay out at least $19m in refunds to settle a formal complaint over unauthorised in-app purchases. Read more,

We would love to hear your thoughs on 'freemium' apps, so please let us know by using the commments section below.

Written by Steve Gresty on September 11, 2014 08:24

A little computer gaming can assist in developing well-adjusted children

GamingIt is a common mantra from adults that “kids spend far too much time playing computer games”, and to the uninformed, killing zombies or driving high-powered cars around fictitious race tracks would seem to offer little contribution to their respective development, indeed some would go so far as to say they have a detrimental impact on young people’s lives and behaviour.

However, a study published in the journal ‘Pediatrics’ by scientists from Oxford University has suggested that engaging with video games for a short period each day could contribute in a small, but positive manner to a child’s development.

A sample group of nearly 5000 young people, half male and half female, aged between 10 and 15 years old, drawn from a representative selection of UK households, were surveyed by experimental psychologist Dr. Andrew Przybylski and questioned about how much time, on average, they spent playing console or computer-based games daily. They were then asked questions focusing on how satisfied they were with their lives, their levels of hyperactivity and inattention, their empathy and the quality of their relationships with their peers.

During the study, 75% of the young people questioned indicated that they engaged in screen-based gaming on a daily basis. Interestingly, the research suggested that those who spent more than half of the daily free time playing games are not well adjusted and hypothesised that the reason for this is that they were less likely to get involved in other enriching activities as well as being exposed to content that is inappropriate, designed, as it were, for adult consumption.

The particularly fascinating result within this study, however, suggests that in comparison to children who are non-players and those who are frequent players, those who play games for less than one-third of their daily free time (usually less than one hour) appeared to possess the most developed abilities to socialise and have less friendship and emotional issues. They also reported less hyperactivity than other groups.

Contrary to popular opinion, fuelled by misinformation in the press, Dr. Przybylski suggested that:

“These results support recent laboratory-based experiments that have identified the downsides to playing electronic games. However, high levels of video game-playing appear to be only weakly linked to children's behavioural problems in the real world.”

It was also his opinion, based on the research, that the small positive effects that were observed for the low levels of game play did not necessarily support the suggestion that screen-based games could, by themselves, somehow, assist children’s development in the increasingly technological world.

In concluding Dr. Przybylski encouraged further research to investigate the particular elements of games that may make them either beneficial or harmful. He also suggested that further study should be carried out within the context of children’s social environments, such as their families, friendship groups and wider community and whether these aspects impact on how gaming experiences influence young people.

In my experience as an educator and a parent, I have found that, like with any pastime or hobby, if a child becomes too obsessed with the narrow focus of a particular interest at the expense of other activities, then it can have a negative impact on their development. Think about any kids in your school who are completely consumed by their interest in football, heavy metal music or even their appearance and, I think you will agree that this can occur with anything. The difference with gaming occurs because they are specifically designed using aggressively engaging principles to draw players in and hold their attention for long periods of time. Applied to young people with susceptible minds, who may use gaming as a means of escaping a dysfunctional family environment or a bullying situation, this, in my opinion, can potentially have a serious detrimental impact on their behaviour and development.

In your experience with young people, do you agree with the results of the study? Do you feel that computer games are harmful or beneficial to young people? Does gaming have a place within the formal education arena? We would love to read your comments so please feel free to share them below.

Written by Steve Gresty on August 07, 2014 11:42

What turns young people off apps?

E-safety TabletA new piece of Voxburner research into young people and their attitudes and behaviours when it comes to using apps reveals that 67% of 16-24s find ads the biggest turn-off when it comes to apps.

Apps that take too long to load (45%), too many push notifications (34%) and requiring to login to use an app (30%) were other key reasons apps can be a turn-off for young people. 35% of respondents also shared of their frustration when an app isn’t available on their mobile platform.

28% of respondents say they always turn off push notifications as soon as they download an app, whilst 60% say they will turn them off if they get too many notifications. 43% say that negative reviews will have an impact on whether they decide to download an app.

The majority of 16-24s (73%) have a core number of 1 - 10 apps that they use on a weekly basis, despite 53% saying they have more than 30 apps downloaded on their phone in total. 14% of respondents have over 50 apps downloaded, whilst 4% have more than 100.

It’s social networking apps (81%) and game apps (70%) that are used the most often - Tumblr, Spotify, YouTube and BBC all feature highly. Weather apps, included in so many default installations, are popular, with 42% of those surveyed using them actively each week. We see that women are more interested in health and fitness apps and photo and video apps, whilst men are using sports and entertainment apps more than women. Blackboard and Evernote were mentioned specifically by students or recent graduates as the top app that helped them at university this year.

Commenting on the results, Precious Hamilton-Brown, Creative Coordinator for Swiftkey, says: “The best apps are those that solve a problem and stand the test of time - the ones you rely on regularly because they improve the overall experience of using your phone. Some apps entice a download but then remain neglected until that inevitable day when your storage space is low and it’s time for a ruthless deleting spree! Young people rightly have high expectations when it comes to giving away a prime spot on their homescreen. They expect quality apps that deliver genuine value, keeping them coming back for more. Companies that want to grow their teenage fanbase must have integrity, credibility and not rest on their laurels for a moment.”

When asked how they feel about the new Facebook messenger app, 44% of 16-24s say it annoys them that it’s now a separate app, whilst 15% say they don’t use Facebook on their phone at all.

Luke Mitchell, Head of Insight at Voxburner, says: “The number of apps young people keep on their phone indicate that there’s no space for those that aren’t providing fun or utility. Annoy them with excessive push notifications or intrusive ads and you’ll feel the full impact of the ‘uninstall’ button.

Claire, aged 18 from Medway, adds: “Facebook just seems to get boring, it's the same old thing day in day out. Typically the other apps [YouTube, WhatsApp, Skype] seem to be more direct communication with individuals, a platform for conversation, or in YouTube's case, watching and finding new things, whether it be music, funny cat videos or anything else.”

Jennie, aged 20 from Brighton, says: “I recently upgraded my phone to the iPhone 5C. It took me a while to decide whether to get an iPhone or change to a Samsung but in the end I decided it would be easier to stay with the iPhone (I had a 4 before) as I wouldn't lose all my apps and wouldn't have to faff around sorting out my music either.”

The full research on Young people and apps can be downloaded for free on the Voxburner website.

Written by Safeguarding Essentials on July 31, 2014 09:10


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