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A Simple Case of Bad Parenting?

A Simple Case of Bad Parenting?

Tue 17 Jul 2012 6:36am GMT / 2:36am EDT / 11:36pm PDT
PoliticsRetail

As another child racks up a huge bill on Xbox Live, we shouldn't be surprised that consumers are still confused by online transactions

The guy's an idiot, a liar, or both - and a terrible parent either way. That pretty much sums up the general internet response to the story of Sam Ghera, a man whose 12 year-old son, Nik, splurged 1,150 over Xbox Live without, we are assured, his dad not having the faintest clue until he was neck deep in the red.

Now, rather than laying any of the blame on his son (who I'm sure couldn't believe his luck), or taking any responsibility himself, he pointed the finger at Microsoft for not doing more to help him and other parents "stop our kids from making payments on our cards."

"Ghera's case is a timely reminder for the games industry that all the systems and safeguards in the world are of little use if your consumers don't understand them"

Alas, for Mr Ghera, the details of the story don't read well for him. He entered his credit card details in the first place to pay for the Xbox Live sub and to authorise the account. Online activity is turned off by default on kids' profiles, as Microsoft pointed out in its statement to the Daily Mail, with a comprehensive range of controls available to parents in Family Settings.

Furthermore, we are asked to believe that he didn't check his bank account or statements for six months - and, we must assume, ignored all the purchase notification emails from Microsoft sent to the address he would have inputted when he added his credit card details. He blames Microsoft Points, claiming his son "didn't realise he was using real money", even when the cash sum is displayed during the transaction process. And to top it all, he cheerfully allows his 12 year-old to play the 18-rated Call of Duty.

If the story sounds familiar, it's because the Daily Mail ran an almost identical article (right down to the composition of the photo) last year, in that case about an 11 year-old who racked up a 1,000 bill on Xbox Live using his mum's credit card.

Once more the poor, blameless parent, Dawn Matthews, claimed she thought she was just paying for an online subscription, criticising Microsoft for allowing "someone of his age to make payments without any checks being done". Because that's exactly what happened, isn't it, Mrs Matthews?

The issue isn't restricted to Xbox, of course. In April, the Daily Mail invoked its favourite headline formula yet again to report on a US court case instigated by "parents whose children have accidentally run up huge bills playing games on their iPhones".

Sneering at the perpetrators of such rank stupidity quickly turns into a gleeful group activity in comment threads and conversations as we smugly lay into what seems at best breathtaking naivety.

"The main reason to employ such a system is to take the transaction one step further away from reality"

But for all the undoubted foolishness of people like Sam Ghera, I can't help but feel some sympathy for confused parents in general - and Mr Ghera's case is a timely reminder for the games industry that all the systems and safeguards in the world are of little use if your consumers don't understand them or know they're there.

The dangers for consumers of credit card usage versus real money have long been understood. The more steps away from the handing over of actual cash a purchase is, the less real it feels and, therefore, the easier it is to make. Consider the terrifyingly seductive simplicity of Amazon's One Click service - I've bought far too much stuff that way, figuring I could worry about the cost later, which in many cases I would never have paid for in coins and notes at a till. As Ghera told the Mail: "With Xbox Live you just press a button and then your money's gone". All too easy?

Let's not forget that Apple, under pressure, added an extra layer of password security to transactions last year. Why? Because kids were buying things willy-nilly in the window following an initial purchase without their parents realising. A situation that was exploited ruthlessly by certain developers, most notably the creator of Smurfs Village - which even caught out the UK games industry's key supporter in Government, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, whose children, then four and two, bought a 60 content add-on just after he had installed the app.

Any company, including Microsoft, that uses virtual currencies cannot claim to be entirely innocent here either. After all, the main reason to employ such a system in the first place is to take the transaction one step further away from reality, making it more difficult for shoppers to know exactly what things cost and what they're spending.

And the concept of freemium is built on the psychological exploit of the free sample, presenting itself as a gift which puts unconscious pressure on the recipient to return the gesture with a purchase. It's little wonder so many consumers are rendered bamboozled by these options.

A related and no less important factor is trust. On one level, the technophobic are more likely to view computers as intelligent systems that will prevent them from doing anything stupid, when in reality they are dumb machines that only do as they are told. Lest we forget, the global financial crisis was caused in large part by the hubris of too-clever-by-half bankers and their impenetrable computer models and algorithms, which in the end even they didn't understand.

"There's never been a shortage of wily and confusing techniques employed by the industry to encourage parents to buy games"

What made the PSN hacking crisis headline news last year was not that you or I were particularly likely to be defrauded as a result. It was the uncomfortable realisation that a brand and service we had blindly put our trust in had proved so cavalier with our personal details.

Similarly, take the recent controversy over scam games on the App Store. When consumers buy into the expensive, closed ecosystem of Apple they reasonably assume they can shop with confidence since, as everything has been approved by Apple, it must be legitimate, right? The rip-offs and copycats that have plagued the store are designed explicitly to exploit this unquestioning faith.

How does any of this relate to Sam Ghera and his embarrassing failure to pay attention to what his child was doing on his Xbox? Firstly, while we are in the laudable position of having fantastic, tech-leading family controls and systems in place - and have done for many years - too many parents still don't understand what it is they're dealing with or supposed to be doing.

In a perversely gratifying sense, then, the Daily Mail's report has actually done the industry a great service, as I'd wager more than a few parents would have winced at the article and quietly scurried away to check on their own bank balances and account settings.

And it's a situation that usefully opens the door for organisations like UKIE. Just 13 days (we hope) from the formal handover of ratings authority from the BBFC to PEGI, the UKIE-funded askaboutgames.com site has relaunched, with a renewed focus on providing families with information on parental controls, age ratings and general advice on safer gaming - all part of an industry-funded awareness campaign.

Irrespective of whose number is on the box, parents aren't suddenly going to stop their kids playing Call of Duty overnight - indeed, lots never will. All the industry can strive for - whether it be understanding how DLC works or what ratings mean - is that they are able to make an informed decision.

It'd be very easy for games companies to shrug it all off and say: "You've got your parental controls; we've sorted age ratings out; it's no longer our problem, sunshine". So it's encouraging to see collective responsibility over getting the message out there with as much clarity as possible - after all, there's never been a shortage of wily and confusing techniques employed by the industry to encourage parents to buy games.

Still, there's still only so much any campaign can usefully achieve. Which is why, as Sam Ghera and Dawn Matthews ought to have known, responsibility truly begins at home. But at least we can all help with that.

37 Comments

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,520 1,314 0.9
Any company, including Microsoft, that uses virtual currencies cannot claim to be entirely innocent here either. After all, the main reason to employ such a system in the first place is to take the transaction one step further away from reality, making it more difficult for shoppers to know exactly what things cost and what they're spending.
This.

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Kingman Cheng
Illustrator and Animator

949 166 0.2
Reminds me of the cases when people blame/sue McDonalds for making them fat.

On the plus side, the kid has a shed load of games, smile!

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

521 749 1.4


That's where I call BS on him saying "he didn't realise it was real money". That could be true up to the point where he ran out of MS points, then it clearly displays real money cost to top up your points balance.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Dave Herod on 17th July 2012 10:30am

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Rod Oracheski
Editor

58 23 0.4
Putting aside the 'take some responsibility for your own actions' angle, the story falls apart at the whole 'buying weapons for his CoD character' part anyway.

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,520 1,314 0.9
@ Dave

Really? Looking at this:

http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-US/Promotion/dealoftheweek

I just see costs in MS Points. Is that different to the 360's own store? (I don't have a 360, so just assumed MS kept their pricing and store structure the same across all storefronts.)

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
An IQ test before parenthood was allowed would make the world a better place.

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Terence Gage
Freelance writer

1,288 120 0.1
I've only just recently got an Xbox 360, and set up my Live account a few weeks ago. You are on several occasions asked if you want to store your payment details on the system for use in the future, as well as the option for parental controls put forward. Now, either Mr. Ghera allowed his son to take his credit card and set up the Live account himself or he sat there and did it with his son but declined to remove his card details from the account or activate any parental controls. Either way, he was grossly irresponsible and has no-one to blame but himself. That's not to mention allowing his son to play Call of Duty in the first place.

That being said, perhaps there should be a PIN option when you make purchases on Live or PSN, just as a final layer of security - unless such a thing already exists? A friend noted to me the other day that if your console was stolen then the thief could go crazy and easily spend hundreds before you had a chance to cancel the card or act generally.

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,246 2,233 1.0
Popular Comment
Kid is 12 playing an 18 rated game. Check.
Parent bought 18 rated game for 12 year old. Check.
Kid doesn't know system points are tied to real currency. Check.
Parent opened account with own CC. Check.
Parent failed to check bank statement for 6 months. Check.
Parent failed to notice payment notifications. Check
Parent blames someone else for $1,700 bill. Check.

Yep, blame Microsoft.


When you fail to be a good parent and then fail to blame yourself for failing to be a good parent, you just exponentially increased your failure.

Posted:2 years ago

#8

Andrew Goodchild
Studying development

1,235 396 0.3
Even given the responsibility the parent has, a pin number to block purchases, or at least real money ones like buying points, would be welcome. When the iStore got criticised for a 15 minute window, the fact that WP7 has no password or pin check, even as an option is worrying.

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Lewis Brown
Snr Sourcer/Recruiter

195 54 0.3
@Dave/Jim Totally Agree with both your comments

At some point Parents need to take responsibilities for there actions, there can be only so many safeguards.

@Morville if "Middle class/Working class parents are working themsleves to the bone for minimum wage" then surely they should be watching the pennies very closely. To me this really doesn't stack up in the real world.

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,520 1,314 0.9
@ Lewis

Hmmmm... Point conceded. :)

Btw, I am fully for parental responsibility, I just hate the Space Bucks system of purchasing. As a consumer it irritates, and as someone who likes transparency in buying, it helps not at all.

Posted:2 years ago

#11
I think people need to undergo a basic Arithmetic test involving a projected debt scenario if they rack up 100 MS points prior to entering their payment details. If they can succeed in this scenario and agree to the potential outcome, then they can agree to be fleeced online

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Patrick Frost
QA Project Monitor

394 191 0.5
There is a very sensible reason for MS and other companies for having points. Firstly it allows people to buy credit in shops. Also their digital products are sold all around the world where MS point=different amounts depending on where you are.



I like the 3DS system where I can pay the exact amount for a game.

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

521 749 1.4


I heard the reasoning behind the points system is simply that if you allow people to store actual credit in real money in your system against an account, from a legal perspective, you become considered by the law to be a bank, and subject to all sorts of financial institution regulations that they'd rather avoid.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Dave Herod on 17th July 2012 1:50pm

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Richard Westmoreland
Game Desginer

138 90 0.7
Simple poor parenting. The adult also lets his child play CoD online, a game which isn't suitable for a child of that age.

The child is smart enough to know exactly what he is doing. He simply lied to try and get of out of being blamed and the bandwagon jumping tabloids love a good "anti gaming" story.

The parental controls are there in the system, the father simply doesn't take enough of an interest to implement them. Even now he's ranting to the tabloids rather than locking down the console to be child friendly.

Posted:2 years ago

#16

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,520 1,314 0.9
@ Dave

Ah, right right. I see what you mean there. And, of course, I've come across that system already - BioWare Points which you use to buy BioWare DLC on the PC. I just tend to stick points on my account then immediately spend them, so, from my personal purchasing point of view, there's no difference, even though actually, mechanically. there is.

Also, that's the first I've heard of the legal reasoning behind points systems vs real money accounts. And, if you'll pardon the pun, I don't buy it. Steam has a wallet which you can transfer funds into from a bank or credit card, and it's actual monies, rather than SteamBucks. ( http://wiki.teamfortress.com/wiki/Steam_Wallet )

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 17th July 2012 2:11pm

Posted:2 years ago

#17

Terence Gage
Freelance writer

1,288 120 0.1
@ Patrick Frost- "There is a very sensible reason for MS and other companies for having points. Firstly it allows people to buy credit in shops."

But what about PSN or iTunes store vouchers then? They're all displayed in real cashmoney. I don't like the MS Points system. When I browse the store I'm constantly trying to work out roughly how much games cost. Not to mention they sell 2100 MSP cards, deliberately leaving a little left over presumably as a psychological trick in order to make you top up your account further.

Posted:2 years ago

#18

James Prendergast
Research Chemist

735 430 0.6
Not defending the parenting on display here but really I think the console manufacturers need to up their game when it comes to ease of use of console features and documentation.

Even when I got my 360 and PS3 they had no real manuals to speak of and now that their OSes have gone through so many revisions even options that I originally knew how to use are hidden away elsewhere. Also, I was under the impression that, once a credit card is attached to your profile on the 360 you have to actually phone up the helpdesk to get it removed (if they allow you) and it wasn't long ago that I remember seeing stories about how MS said there was no way to remove CC information from your account once it was added (this was in response to the furore surrounding the hacked accounts etc.)

Posted:2 years ago

#19

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

521 749 1.4
@Morville - I'm not sure, though it sounds plausible, with it being fairly old. Thinking back to 2005 I can't think of anything similar that allowed you to store real credit.

Posted:2 years ago

#20

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,520 1,314 0.9
@ Dave

Yeah, I suppose it's quite possible there's just been changes to how the law views such things, especially with the proliferation of gift cards and the phasing out of gift vouchers. I might have a dig about through Google later on and see. :)

Posted:2 years ago

#21

Bostjan Troha
CEO

29 12 0.4
Every generation of parents needs something else, not themselves, to blame for their lousy parenting. It used to be rock&roll, then TV, now its games.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Bostjan Troha on 17th July 2012 4:34pm

Posted:2 years ago

#22

Barrie Tingle
Live Producer

368 144 0.4
You have to remember that while the MS Points are virtual currency, the purchase of those points isn't. You are shown the price of the points on many screens before the purchase actually happens. It even shows you which credit card you are charging the money to.



The fact the father didn't read his statements from his card company suggests he knew what was happening to some extent. Xbox 360 has parental controls for a reason and when setting up your account it tells you about them so parents can't even play the "I didn't know" card. If you didn't know then you weren't paying attention and can't go blaming Microsoft because you didn't see it.

Posted:2 years ago

#23

Russ Cogman
Senior Game Artist

22 47 2.1
"A Simple Case of Bad Parenting?"

Yes!

Next tabloid story claiming to show the negative effects of gaming rather than parenting, please.

Posted:2 years ago

#24

CK Hicks
VFX Artist/Writer

5 1 0.2
Next tabloid story claiming to show the negative effects of gaming rather than parenting, please.
Amen to that. Good writeup on the dangers of a hands-off approach to raising future gamers, Johnny.

Posted:2 years ago

#25

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,246 2,233 1.0
Can I make a request on top of my previous request that you never publish another article on anything Michael Pachter says?

Stop reporting on stories written in the Daily Mail. They blur the lines between news and tabloid a little too much to be given the credibility they receive.

Posted:2 years ago

#26

Pete Thompson
Owner / Admin

169 97 0.6
What I find strange with Mr Ghera's argument is that whenever I top up my MS Points I get an email as mentioned in the article such as the one below from this afternoon explaining what I purchased and when, yet this Mr Ghera still doesn't accept responsibility..
Purchase confirmation for Xbox Live 2000 Microsoft Points bundle

Dear Pete,

This mail is confirmation that you successfully purchased Xbox Live 2000 Microsoft Points bundle on 17 July 2012. Please retain a copy of this for your records. Here is a description of your purchase:

www.xbox.com/live/accounts.

Xbox.com to use on your console? All you need is a Silver or Gold account, an Xbox 360 with Internet access and a storage device, and you're ready to get points, queue up game and video downloads to your Xbox 360 and more, all from the convenience of your PC. You can even renew your subscription and easily manage your account online. Just visit this site: http://marketplace.xbox.com. See you on Xbox LIVE!

Thank you for using Microsoft Online Services.

Xbox LIVE Team

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Pete Thompson on 17th July 2012 6:17pm

Posted:2 years ago

#27

Brian Smith
Artist

195 84 0.4
Yeah he's probably chancing it, and yeah it's a bit stoopid. MS seem to be pretty covered for such claims but imo they should be looking for authentification from the card owner every time payment is made from a card. It's fair enough to allow spending of MS points at the players whim but as for card transactions, they should have to be more cautious than they are.

Eg. If my xbox is on anyone present can simply go in and buy 6000 points at the click of a button without any card security number or identifier. This is poor.

Posted:2 years ago

#28

Pete Thompson
Owner / Admin

169 97 0.6
@ Brian, You need to be over 18 to hold a credit card or paypal (here in the Uk at least), therefore If a parent gives his card or paypal info to little Johny gamer to use then more fool them..

As an adult I don't really want to have to keep entering security info into a payment system that has worked fine since release just because some parents use consoles / Video games as baby sitters / child minders

Posted:2 years ago

#29

Ian Brown
IT Developer / IT Infrastructure

107 26 0.2
Its called ease of use. I know that as silly as it sounds, I'd probably spend less on the game stores (PSN/LIVE?STEAM) if i had to keep entering passwords or performing security checks. Its done as it is because of the impulse of gamers, for 5 minutes you really want to play the rest of the game and to unlock it takes but 5 button presses. While you're in this state and before you can really think about it the points are in your account and it's too late to back out. I mean this isn't always the case (more so after a few beers :)) but I know I generally debate more about my purchases while I'm standing in line at a store than I do when clicking a few buttons.

Posted:2 years ago

#30

Keldon Alleyne
Handheld Developer

434 406 0.9
We have enough research and knowledge on how users respond to interfaces. If a parent's goal is "to pay for XBox Gold subscription", they should not be expected to have to read and understand terms unrelated to their intended task. We know it's error prone and has a high likelihood of being ignored. That is not a user fault, it is an inherent trait of the human condition that exists in even the most intelligent of men.

I've had issues with XBox purchases where it was nearly impossible to remove my card details from the account after activating a subscription for my younger siblings. I had to go through hoops with Microsoft support to remove it. And even after it was removed I got random charges a year later which they had to refund.

Some things should just be opt-in, period, because anything other than that is likely to penalize anyone who did not previously want the default selection.



Simple to implement and it solves 90% of these issues from ever happening.

---

And to add. We know every child with an XBox Gold account had to have had a parent (or adult's) credit card, whose only intention is to purchase a Gold account. For this reason I would say that Microsoft has been negligent in this case for not taking the care to properly account for an inevitable eventuality. Someone must have figured out that all of those parents only wanted a Gold subscription, not to give their child access to make purchases on their card.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Keldon Alleyne on 17th July 2012 7:20pm

Posted:2 years ago

#31
While I agree with much of this, you also have to ask why the so called "free to play" market exists. As a game developer I am under huge pressure *from the consumers* to adopt such a scheme because they like the sound of "free". I know its nonsense and that one way or another they are going to be paying or it isn't a business. I much prefer the formula of "a reasonable payment for an honest piece of entertainment". It is up front and honest about the true costs. But the cry of "I'll play that when its F2P" of the crowd can be deafening in its volume.

I am afraid that, like government, the people get the payment systems they ask for and thus deserve.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 17th July 2012 7:25pm

Posted:2 years ago

#32

Brian Smith
Artist

195 84 0.4
@Pete Thompson - I'm just saying it's too lax. If I make a purchase from Amazon I don't expect them to just ok every future purchase on the grounds that my card checks out at the time of account creation. Similarly, I expect all my online purchases to be backed up my responsible security. Xbox should be the same.

Personally, security for me wins over ease of use. If I need to enter a 3 digit code or whatever any time I use my card I'm happy to do that. You get ease of use once you've made a points purchase anyhow, so you can spend as and when you need at a click of a button. A little inconvenience is a small price to pay for reasonable security.

Posted:2 years ago

#33

Richard DeBarry
Programmer

10 20 2.0
I have a family account with multiple accounts on it for my own use (not married, no kids, and just recently added my girlfriend to it). Can't tell you how many times I'm on one of my other accounts and want to purchase something but can't because only my primary account can buy and hand out MS points. Because of my experience I can only point the finger at the parent in this case.

Posted:2 years ago

#34

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

521 749 1.4
Also to those who claim you don't have a choice but to put credit card details in - I've been an Xbox Live Gold member since the 360 launched, and I've never once used a credit card in the system. 12 month subscription cards, MS points cards etc are all available from retailers (and on Amazon, are actually cheaper). So there's always an alternative if you're concerned about things like that.

Posted:2 years ago

#35

Keldon Alleyne
Handheld Developer

434 406 0.9
@Dave: The first problem isn't the choice of an alternative option, it's simply the presentation of options and unexpected consequences. When you've got a minute, observe Dan Ariely's TED talk on this matter. When you get into the field of UI design you become aware of why Microsoft has a responsibility in this case.

The availability of an alternative in no way waives Microsoft of negligence in their flawed system. It's contrary to all understanding of cognition. A company of that size and research of UI and human interaction has absolutely no excuse for ignoring the basics if UI design theory.

Posted:2 years ago

#36

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

521 749 1.4
@Keldon

As Terence Gage said:
I've only just recently got an Xbox 360, and set up my Live account a few weeks ago. You are on several occasions asked if you want to store your payment details on the system for use in the future, as well as the option for parental controls put forward.
How are MS being negligent if he doesn't read what's on the screen in front of him? He can't say that having his credit card details stored was an "unexpected consequence" just because he couldn't be bothered to read it when he entered it.

Posted:2 years ago

#37

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