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How To Control Free-to-Play Spending?

How To Control Free-to-Play Spending?

Fri 27 Apr 2012 6:47am GMT / 2:47am EDT / 11:47pm PDT
BusinessFree-to-Play

The question of children's expenditure on free-to-play games is a PR disaster waiting to happen, says Rob Fahey

The decision by Japanese mobile gaming giants GREE and DeNA to set hard limits on the monthly expenditure of children and teenagers on their services seems like a fairly minor development in the context of the wider social and free-to-play markets, but it's a tacit acknowledgment of a major problem with the mobile gaming industry - and a hasty attempt to tackle the issue before it really blows up in their faces.

The mobile and social sector has grown at incredible speed in recent years, bolstered by the rapid rise first of social networks and then of smartphone devices - so it's unsurprising that the sector is also experiencing some pretty serious growing pains. Chief among those pains is the question of the free-to-play business model which has become widely accepted as the dominant way to make mobile and social gaming pay for itself. F2P models are controversial on many levels. Lots of traditional gamers (and traditional game creators) hate the idea of building monetisation into the design of the game, being uncomfortable with such a close marriage of business and creativity. It's easy to find examples of "greedy" F2P games which are too aggressive in their approach to monetisation, forgetting that the whole point of F2P is that you need to make a player fall in love with the game first, and ask them for cash later.

More troubling is the question of who's actually paying for F2P game transactions, and what controls are in place to stop children from racking up huge bills

Those issues are internal to the games sector, however, and will eventually be resolved as gamers get used to the F2P model, and F2P game designers get to grips with the fine balance between experience and commerce that avoids winding up potential consumers. What's more troubling - a much darker cloud on the horizon, if you will - is the question of who's actually paying for F2P game transactions, and what controls are in place to stop children from racking up huge bills.

That's a bigger problem than you might imagine. On the surface, it seems that you should only have isolated instances which potentially embarrass game companies - the child who runs up $500 on his mother's credit card, the teenager who foolishly racks up thousands on in-game purchases for an online game, and so on. Embarrassing, potentially garnering a minor storm of mass-media outrage, but hardly crippling to the business model, since these are simply outliers - right?

Except that these cases are not necessarily outliers. In fact, without careful controls being put in place, these cases could become extremely widespread - because the problem of children and teenagers overspending on F2P games cuts to the very heart of the psychology which drives the F2P business model.

In essence, free-to-play games rely on the premise that while most players won't pay a penny for the game experience (something which traditional designers often feel uncomfortable with, resulting in over-aggressive attempts to get users to spend money), a fairly decent percentage will pay a small amount of money (a few dollars) and a small percentage will pay a very large amount of money (hundreds or even, eventually, thousands of dollars). This latter group, although very small in number, can account for a large proportion of a game's revenues.

Who are those people? Well, on a positive level, they're true fans of the game, spending lots of money on a product and experience they love. It's hardly any different, morally, from a Final Fantasy fan who not only buys the games but also ends up buying a specially branded console, tickets to Distant Worlds concerts, T-shirts, figurines and so on. The idea of true fans of a game spending thousands of dollars on their fandom isn't new, and has often been seen as something to be celebrated. Just because that money is going on in-game items rather than physical figurines doesn't really change the morality of the situation - hell, in-game items are a lot easier to keep dust-free, for a start.

On a less positive level, though, there's the simple fact that for most F2P games, the people who constitute that high-spending category are, to put it bluntly, people with poor impulse control. F2P games generally create "speed bumps" in order to encourage players to spend money - actions in the game which could be overcome by waiting a little while or saving up currency earned in-game, but which can also be overcome instantly by spending real money. The players caught out by those speed bumps tend, in general, to be those who have a poor ability to delay gratification. And which group of people are noted for being awful at dealing with delayed gratification? Children.

People who constitute the high-spending category are, to put it bluntly, people with poor impulse control

Now, I'm not going to start waving my arms and shouting that F2P business models are deliberately targeting children, because I don't honestly believe that that's the case. However, there's absolutely no question that the structure of these games and the psychology which drives people to buy in-game items is especially potent for children, who are exactly the audience who are least likely to appreciate the consequences of spending a lot of money on in-game items. If an adult decides to do something like buying $500 worth of in-game currency, then that's fine - you or I may decide that it's stupid, but it's simply not our place to comment on how adults choose to spend their money on their hobbies (within reason). If a child spends $500 on a F2P game, though, that's a huge problem - not just because it's a bad headline, but because the harsh reality is that the F2P game structure actively encouraged and promoted that behaviour.

The solutions put forward by GREE and DeNA are blunt instruments, limiting children under 16 to 5,000 Yen a month spend and those under 20 (Japan's age of majority) to 10,000 Yen. It should be relatively easy for those caps to be applied to Japan's feature-phones, which lock in game accounts to mobile phone accounts and thus make data like the age of the subscriber available to providers. What's going to be a lot more challenging is applying limits like those to systems like iOS or Facebook Credits. How are we to identify which users are underage? How are we to deal with situations where a parent's account is used by a child to buy vast amounts of credit? Certainly, there's an argument that parents have a responsibility to keep their accounts secured from their children, just as they'd keep their physical credit cards out of children's hands - but that argument looks a bit transparent if games and payment systems don't provide solid, easy to use tools to allow parents to do that, and especially if games leave themselves open to accusations of enticing children to overspend.

Amid the wider debate over F2P models in general, this is the bombshell waiting to go off. There has been some rumbling in the mainstream press already, and a handful of high-profile cases have caused a ripple of interest - but as the number of people playing social and mobile games continues to skyrocket, it's almost inevitable that we will eventually reach a critical mass of cases which is sufficient to trigger widespread outrage at industry practices with regard to children. GREE and DeNA have moved to head off that problem - Apple, to its discredit, has been much slower to act, although it admittedly faces a much harder task than the Japanese firms. It's not enough to simply wait for Apple or Facebook to act, however. Each F2P game company needs to look at their products and their monetisation strategies and ask if they're doing enough to protect children and parents - because when this blows up, it may be as much a regulatory and legal question as a public relations one, and that's not a crossfire any firm wants to find themselves caught in.

34 Comments

Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer

482 293 0.6
I've seen this one coming for a while now. You simply can not target children for applications that allow in app purchases. There are no if's, but's or maybe's about it!

A child has no boundaries defined when it comes to judging what is and isn't a good spend or where the limits should be drawn. The child is also not the one who is paying for the transaction. The act of getting children to purchase through apps is pretty much an act of defrauding the parents via their children.

Any sensible company would, at this stage, be removing or re-branding any apps they have that allow children to purchase in app.

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Anthony Gowland Lead Designer, Outplay Entertainment

221 798 3.6
Curious that you've used a screenshot of Skylanders Cloud Patrol, which isn't a F2P game.

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters

528 788 1.5
Well said, Rob. Although I imagine it's going to be hard to get F2P developers to implement measures that draw attention to spending when the entire business model relies on preying on ignorance of it.

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
If a parent gives their credit card number to their child in an uncontrolled way then they are just asking for trouble. So why blame the video game industry for stupid parents? Once again.
There are far worse things that the child could do to abuse the situation than spend money on video gaming. So why pick on us?
You have to jump through lots of hoops to make an in app purchase. Far more than with most other ways of spending money. So we are already on the moral high ground. Not that the Mail would notice.

Posted:2 years ago

#4

lewis labram Environment Artist, Jagex Games Studio

2 0 0.0
I honestly wonder how this is different from a child going to a shop and spending money on sweets, magazines, clothes or toys...

If you give your child your credit card, and they go spend $1000 on amazon, is it amazons fault? Its sad that today's society will try to blame anybody besides the parents who were irresponsible in the first place. I mean honestly, where did a child get $500... How did the teenager get thousands? Did they steal the money?

As Peter said above, children have no boundaries to judge what is and isn't good to spend. Therefore the parents should not trust them with their money.

If they place a spending limit on age, the child will simply register as above the age and continue to spend money. The only way to stop over spending is to stop everybody from spending as there is absolutely no way to distinguish who is on the other end of the computer. However that then just punishes people who can afford and want to spend their money on their loved games.

Posted:2 years ago

#5
I'm glad to see some responsibility being shown by big players in the F2P market.

Personally I would like to see a F2P game try a monthly cap that meant full enjoyment of the game effectively turning from F2P to a subscription at some level (this would need to be designed into the game as items would effectively become 'free' at a certain point). The 'subscription' price could still be a high amount like the caps being discussed here but not the crazy 'whale'/true fan levels of $10,000 on single item purchases. I imagine we would see a lot higher rates of users spending as they would be aware that letting themselves enjoy and spend in the game wouldn't spiral out of control or result in the constant carrot dangling in front of them.

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Rob Fahey Columnist, GamesIndustry.biz

76 190 2.5
Bruce & Lewis; I agree with you on the fundamental principle here, being that parents should be much more careful with how they grant access to their money to their kids. However, I think that the kind of dismissive attitude you demonstrate is exactly what's going to get the industry into PR, and potentially legislative, trouble. The fact is that a parent who hands their child an iPod Touch or an iPad doesn't think "I'm giving my kid my credit card details". It's not a connection they instantly make, and neither the operating systems themselves nor the games which run on them are providing parents with enough guidance and fine-grained control over how to limit spending.

There IS a problem here, and it doesn't lie solely with the parents. The industry has to bear at least some of the responsibility for educating parents and putting easy-to-use controls on spending into their hands.

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer

482 293 0.6
@Bruce

Normally I'd agree with you but, the child doesn't actually have to enter any credit card information to purchase. It is as simply as confirming they want to purchase and having the account password.

The in game messages don't say you've spent 50. They usually say something along the lines of You've just purchased a Unicorn!! Congratulations.

This is clearly playing to the childs senses while never mentioning that "You've just spent 50 quid of daddy's money hell be pissed!"

Posted:2 years ago

#8

Steve Ball Software Engineer, Ubisoft Montreal

18 5 0.3
This really is going to blow up soon... mark my words.

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Martyn Brown Managing Director, Insight For Hire

141 56 0.4
I don't see the difference in kids renting sky movies by knowing a 4 digit code, by ordering off amazing (1 click, anyone)?

But no, because it's games...

I really don't know why as an industry we help build these myths that our medium is any worse than a myriad others.

Oh right, news, thats why.

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Brian Lewis Operations Manager, Aeria Games Europe

141 93 0.7
The simple solution is to NOT store billing data. If the customer must enter billing data at the time of purchase, then it means that they have access to the financial information (credit card, paypal account, etc).

We here at Aeria Games use a virtual currency system, that allows parents to purchase points as they like, and for children to spend them. By separating the process of buying points, and spending them, it adds a layer of security, and give the user a built in sanity check.

We also do not allow for anyone under the age of 13 to create an account. Because of this we avoid many other issues as well.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Brian Lewis on 27th April 2012 5:37pm

Posted:2 years ago

#11

Robert Mac-Donald Game Designer, Lethe Games

82 117 1.4
F2P (like I said before here, I call it Free to Pay sometimes), is the equivalent of a Vegas casino to people, in the sense of being exciting and making even people with no trouble managing their money spend more than they usually do. There are some korean F2P mmos that in fact are about gambling, you spend real money on an item that may or may not give you something interesting, or may even ruin your weapon if you try to upgrade it with the paid item.

There is a difference with people spending their money on books, games or food because usually you have an idea of how much you spent on it, while the F2P model tries to cover your expenses (by buying Tokens instead of the items directly) and generally confuses people by the amount of tiny cheap things you can buy in a succession while not showing how much you spent so far.

And of course, in the F2P model you are buying a REWARD, not a product. This is a key difference to why it should be treated differently.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Robert Mac-Donald on 27th April 2012 7:14pm

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd

343 812 2.4
Insightful stuff as ever, Rob.

It's frustrating to see companies that set out to work "just within the line" (Zynga's words) of what's permitted (or even legal) on a platform, or conceitedly sneer at the customers they're supposed to serve.

Aiming an F2P game with wilfully hidden and potentially excessive costs at young children is extremely difficult to justify in any context. Games like Moshi Monsters and Skylanders demonstrate that you can make games for young audiences with business models involving repeated payments that parents are willing to support. Nobody needs to set out to be deceptive.

I hope Apple (and Google) take note of GREE and DeNA's policies. Anyone who remembers the bad old days of mobile knows how easy it is for a few shady companies to destroy the public's trust in an entire market.

Currently the iOS App Store has no functional mechanism whatsoever for users to register their disapproval for or warn others about games like this. The review/rating system is toothless.

Perhaps self-regulation is an avenue worth exploring.

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Keldon Alleyne Handheld Developer, Avasopht Ltd

472 480 1.0
Consider only: to knowingly exploit another's misunderstanding, misjudgment and incorrect expectations is deceitful (interesting TED talk related to this subject)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Keldon Alleyne on 27th April 2012 10:53pm

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Todd Templeman President, Logic Factory

6 1 0.2
Great article. Huge issue.

I'd like to read about how F2P gained so much traction in the first place. My memory is that MMOs had been doing well in the West, including records being set by WoW, but it was difficult breaking into China. Then the free-to-play experiment (with other products) began in earnest, and took off. Perhaps not only in China ... I remember hearing about some microtransaction successes in Korea and elsewhere, pre-WoW, but not many. But the stories from China began reaching an astonishing level. F2P to level 40 in high quality WoW knockoffs, but then the screws got turned on the addicted customer, hard. This was possible because China was so new to gaming, and had such a high population in an economy booming for the first time in their lives. In other words, a pretty clearly anomalous environment. Arguably F2P and microtransactions - in so many cases involving classic game design that should not be compatible with such a model - represents a cancer in our industry. But it spread, and back across the oceans.

But this is just my memory of what I saw happening. I'd love to read a more thorough report with more perspectives. This is an argument we need to have. It is going to be blowing up soon, which is why we've been talking about "Just Play" ... no in-game charges, ads, or pop-ups that break the mood of a game. But the PR and political disaster will arrive any day. Probably starting in China. The mud is going to splash on everyone in the industry.

By the way, some games perhaps can fit naturally into F2P/microtransaction models, and still incorporate consumer fairness, maybe. But only if the deciding principle is design in the interest of the customer. Look at the world's most valuable corporation. Apple is famous for Steve Jobs' mantra: "we love our customers." If more game companies followed that as a design principle they'd be just as rich, or richer, and not about to be stepping on a land mine, with the rest of us in the next furrow over.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Todd Templeman on 28th April 2012 9:00am

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,196 1,176 0.5
Of course (and as I've said elsewhere) the solution is dirt simple and PR doesn't need to even get its big toe wet.

All these Not-So-F2P games should tell you UP FRONT when you buy them in easy to read text at the point of sale in big enough print that mummy and daddy can read BEFORE purchasing that:

1) Hell yeah, their card info will be stored and used automatically should that tot or tyke run out of credits and hit that "GIMME" button flashing on screen.

BUT,

2) BEFORE that happens, the game will suspend itself and save any data for a period of time until the parental unit who bought that damn digital pacifier in the first place can RE-ENTER that credit card data and some other personal info.

I can't see ANYONE having to go through this new process whining that they didn't realize they were being charged.

Hell, we've gotten so lazy these days that these companies KNOW they can basically rob an account blind before an outraged adult (who should have figured this crap would happen) steps in and starts bitching about the few hundred or thousand bucks leeched from their bank accounts because their kid got his or her Pavlovian center tickled by tapping away at a mobile screen and has NO clue as to how it's all being paid for.

When the mobile industry steps up an makes an honest person out of itself instead of acting like a very talented stripper* who can drain wallets like Dracula at a nudist colony, then maybe there's some respect to be gained.


(*NOTE: That very talented stripper would be either male or female, so as not to "offend" anyone thinking I'm some sexist pig. I'm an equal opportunity offender, actually!)

g.

Posted:2 years ago

#16

James Verity

132 25 0.2
I dont suppose it has crossed companies minds to put in place a system that for example when the user has spent 40 unlocks everything in future for free in that game? or are F2P just a way for game developers to steal money by stealth...

Posted:2 years ago

#17

Peter Sleeman Director, P2 Games Limited

1 0 0.0
The relaity is that with games players getting ever younger you also have the issue that these audiences cabn't actually read. At p2 we took a concious decision to charge for our games ( Peppa Pig, PostMan Pat, Guess With Jess, My First JCB, Fireman Sam et al.) and then continue to update with content for free. The free to play model has its place ( although I appear to be ina mionority in that I don't beleive it will replace premium content in total...as soon as evertyhing is FTP then you have the same discoverability issues that created the model....)

Kids don't see the issue in buying credits....and parents are not always sosphisticated users who will prevent abuse ....

Good work Rob...P2 supports the initiative :)

Posted:2 years ago

#18

Brian Lewis Operations Manager, Aeria Games Europe

141 93 0.7
I would agree that the issue here is that minors are being given access to billing information (as it is stored on the account) and that this bypasses the normal throttle on the velocity of spending. The same pattern can be seen when you give minors credit cards. They just spend until it is all gone.

The true solution is to remove minors ability to spend. The process should always entail an adult re-entering the billing information (come on, it only takes 30 seconds) for each purchase. This makes it less convenient to stack repetitive small charges, and gives a clear accounting of the cost.

Posted:2 years ago

#19

Felix Leyendecker Senior 3D Artist, Crytek

184 204 1.1
I'm not sure a multi-user mode for iDevices or increased hassle while making payments would be in apples interest. The best solution would be to set up apple IDs for kids where you can only pre-charge the account via iTunes cards and not have credit card info stored. But I don't think you can have an account with no CC at all.

Posted:2 years ago

#20

Cory Swick VP of Authentication Solutions, MagTek Inc.

2 0 0.0
Actually, you can! And I shared the solution to this problem at GDC. Simply, Virtual Gift cards can be used not only for gift giving but also for creating allowances and parental controls.

Posted:2 years ago

#21

Cory Swick VP of Authentication Solutions, MagTek Inc.

2 0 0.0
And as we all know, most American parents DO NOT even trust gaming sites to begin with. So, the real question is, "how much business are we loosing in the gaming world due to parental distrust?"

Posted:2 years ago

#22
I'm not really sure why Apple is being particularly singled out. To make ANY in-game purchase on an i-device you have to enter your Apple ID password. Just don't tell your kid the password!

I will say that many Facebook games are guilty of this. I know that I accidentally spent about $10 on in-game purchases before realizing that the app wasn't asking me to go through a "do you wish to purchase..." dialogue each time.

Posted:2 years ago

#23

Ahmed Sharif Software Development Engineer in Test (R&D), Sony Computer Entertainment Europe

14 6 0.4
This concept can be applied to almost ANY online based payment system, that includes online stores like Amazon. The same argument could be made to online stores who allow for easy one-click payment (practically all of them), the only reason why games are targeted here is purely because of their popularity, but that doesn't mean they should be treated differently.

If a game is free-to-play, fair do. Kids play the game, have a blast. If a parent then allows their child to buy in-game currency or items by letting them use their fully credit card, then notices the child over-spending, who's fault is it? Replace "game" with "Amazon" and "currency or items" with "anything else a child might buy" (games, anyone?) and you have the same scenario.

You still need to enter your credit card information, you cannot simply "skip" such an important step, and there is almost ALWAYS an option that allows a person to save credit card details for easier purchase next time. It baffles me as to how one might need any more control than this. Surely the parent would not be THAT ignorant as to simply throw the credit card at their child and say "do it yourself"?

The process of:
1) Manually entering card details.
2) Option of saving you card details (which any online business legally cannot do without permission).

Should be more than enough control for a parent to limit their child's spending.

If people here think that this is not enough guidance/security, then how much do you think is required? They're playing by laws and regulations that apply to ALL online transactions.

If a parent gives their child permission to use the credit card for both of these steps, then you seriously cannot blame a game (or the child for that matter) for aimlessly spending. The solution here? It's the parents responsibility. Just like anything else that may involve a credit card.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Ahmed Sharif on 28th April 2012 5:36pm

Posted:2 years ago

#24
I agree it's a problem, but I think it's one of customer education. Asking customers to manually re-enter their billing info for every transaction would be commercial suicide for Apple, Google and most companies that rely on stored billing and low friction purchases.

The issue I've seen is one of parental convenience overcoming common sense, with parents sharing passwords to their accounts and not enabling parental controls on their phones and tablets.

We get regular refund requests for our games (around 1-2% of total transactions), which we usually provide. But even when we require parents to secure their device and provide specific instructions, the same parents return again and again.

Rob, to address a specific point in your article - Apple provides iTunes Store Allowance which makes it easy to create a child their own account with a fixed monthly allowance, similar to GREE and DeNA. Apparently that's too much work however.

There is no security measure that a game developer can offer (within the API's that Apple and Google provide) that can protect a parent against their apparent desire to hand off responsibility to someone else. Children don't have credit cards - adults do. Every transaction processed in-game is for an adult with a credit card. How should a game developer detect that it's a child playing instead of an adult?

@Greg - from personal experience - warning notices simply don't work. As we've learned, most people do not read the game descriptions. They see an icon they like and the word free next to it. That's it. You could put a giant deaths head and a flashing warning in red 32 point font next to it and some people would still ignore it.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Todd Hooper on 29th April 2012 12:57am

Posted:2 years ago

#25

Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game

1,255 421 0.3
Asking to enter whole billing information may be a step too far, but you could ask to re-enter the 3 digit security code. I actually don't understand how companies get away with not doing that when, as far as I know, it is illegal to store that little part. Ok, it's not foolproof, I kid could remember those 3 digits, but it at least is a halfway measure.

Posted:2 years ago

#26
It's not illegal to store billing info Andrew. Companies that do store it comply with the PCI standards in order to keep it secure.

Unfortunately, a three digit CVV code won't stop purchases any more than a four digit PIN, which almost all devices already offer. I don't think the problem can be solved with technology. It requires user education.

Posted:2 years ago

#27

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing

1,186 1,273 1.1
At first, monetization meant whether to charge $40 or $50. Then, monthly fees asked for $15 a month. Right here, we are discussion monthly caps of $100. That is a very scary trend to be honest.

I heard the arguments of the article once before on a panel at gamescom 2011 and to be frank, it is a bit cynical and disingenuous. It directs the attention not to the source, or the "victims", but to the middle-man facilitating the money transfer.

There is an entire portion of the video game industry now, which has stopped being an entertainment industry. The focus is more on setting up aspirations and then offer them for sale. The issue is not how the money gets from A to B, but how the customer is psychologically manipulated to buy.

The most likely form of backlash is probably game ratings taking the business model into account, instead of the levels of sex and violence. You wouldn't let a minor play in a casino. It is not because we want to protect him from spending money, having fun, it is because we know deep down that there is a psychologically addictive component to the casino and the minors have to be protected from that. One right reelection at the right time and a few politicians will exploit this to their advantage.

Posted:2 years ago

#28
You have to know the password when you buy something on iOS for example. You cannot make in app purchase without entering the password to your account. If parent gives password to account tied to a credit card to a kid of, say, 6 years old who then goes and spends 500 dollars on smurf berries... It certainly isn't the game developer's fault.

I can imagine media's will love to make headlines every time children who's parent has given account password to little Billy or Sarah spend hundreds on virtual items. But it's not game industry's fault. What about music, a kid can buy music with 500 dollars from iTunes too?

That some games which are fine tuned to get players hooked and pay money are aimed at kids, that's immoral. My suggestion: IAP's in game mean age rating of 12+.

Posted:2 years ago

#29
I'm curious to know why F2P games are being singled out in this article. Why not carry the restriction on total amount spent by children over to console, downloadable, subscription and mobile? Surely kids still play more CODMW3 then the latest Farmville clone. Then again, why stop at limiting spending on games? Maybe we can restrict how much McDonald's is sold to kids, or limit how much music they can download and probably come up with a system to shut off TV sets after a set number of hours and/or commercials would be viewed. It would be great! Then there can be a pan-EU content/product/financial transaction bureaucracy which could issue rules for everything a child might come in contact with in the real or digital world. We'll can call it Big Brother for literary accuracy! I'm sure the mullahs in Iran would approve. Seriously, what issue won't you Euros suggest we regulate?

Coming from the US POV, the suggestions being bounced around here are not likely going to be implemented unless you regulate the spending from within the banking and credit card industry (not likely). They are the only companies with access to all expenditures by users and the only ones with power to stop transactions from going through. Not sure why everyone expects game companies to commit ritual seppu-ku in order to placate a bunch of parents with unruly brats. The F2P companies need that 2% of the user base to keep some of you guys employed. So be careful what you wish for, you may get it.

Posted:2 years ago

#30

James Berg Games User Researcher, EA Canada

190 250 1.3
For those advocating re-entering billing information for every purchase, I think Todd said it perfectly: "Asking customers to manually re-enter their billing info for every transaction would be commercial suicide for Apple, Google and most companies that rely on stored billing and low friction purchases."

The key to microtransactions is to make the process seamless. It's not about disguising the amount being spent, it's about being convenient. The industry is frequently pricing things in games below the threshold of spending that triggers a strong deliberative process. Breaking that flow stops transactions cold - research has been ongoing there for years.

For those comparing games to sites like Amazon/iTunes, I don't think it's an analogous situation. A F2P game is specifically designed to provide the opportunity to spend money - the game actively engages the user, and the opportunity occurs in the normal process of playing the game. On a website, the buyer has to manually go through the website and find what they're looking for - for a child, that's a much more difficult task than pressing a virtual button that they know will get them more smurfberries.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Berg on 30th April 2012 8:04pm

Posted:2 years ago

#31

Peter Freese Lead Programmer, Hidden Path Entertainment

7 6 0.9
I think one issue is that most games do a very poor job at communicating what is going on to the child's parents. How many games require the child to enter a parent's email address? How many games provide a parent interface that allows the parent to set limits on play time, spending, global chat, etc.? How many games send a periodic report of the child's activity and spending to the parent?

There are definitely technological solutions that have not been implemented or tried. Besides the implementation details, I think the additional challenge we have in the US and other western markets is that we lack any age verification infrastructure, so it is easy for children to bypass age/consent barriers.

Posted:2 years ago

#32

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters

528 788 1.5
@Kevin Reilly - Why F2P? Because by it's very nature, it's all a psychological trick to distract the user from making informed choices about the money they're spending, and kids are most at risk of this. The fact that payments are small and regular means that kids asking permission for every small purchase is going to be annoying enough to some parents to give in and allow the kids to buy their own stuff. Yes, ultimately it's the responsibility of the parents and customers to regulate, but it's like leaving a bear trap in plain view in the middle of a busy street and saying "well, they should have been more careful to look where they were walking" if someone was distracted on the phone etc and walks into it.

Posted:2 years ago

#33
@Peter - You are looking for a tech solution to a human problem. Plenty of games warn parents - some parents don't read. iTunes provides a parents interface to control spending - some parents don't use it. And we do have age verification - it's called a credit card, but some parents seem to be fine to share it with their kids. There is no technical solution to these problems, beyond user education.

Posted:2 years ago

#34

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