Parents: it’s 2013, stop blaming Apple for your kid’s $1,000 app bill

Another day, another parent outraged because her kids racked up thousands of dollars through freemium in-app purchases.
This time, the shock of a lifetime went to a mother in Canada, whose seven-year-old twins racked up a $3,000 bill playing SuperCell’s blockbuster free-to-play app, Clash of Clans. She claimed she thought the app was free, and that the boys continually put in her user password to download in-app currency in $99 chunks without knowing better. She was mad at Apple, and wanted them to crack down for “safety.”
Parents: In-app purchases have been around since 2009 — Apple’s no longer at fault for your children spending your money.
The unwitting purchase of in-app currency through freemium games was a thing back in 2010 — our own Kevin Tofel even experienced sticker shock. A class action lawsuit for parents was filed in 2012, but by that time Apple had already introduced a purchasing barrier in an update to iOS 4 that required re-entry of passwords for purchases. Three years ago, outrage was reasonable, but now it’s ridiculous.

To put it simply: nowadays, free mobile games are never really free. Research by Flurry indicates that 90% of apps in the iTunes app store are free to download, and that more users are likely to download a free app than a paid one. In order to obtain a steady revenue stream, apps rely on both ads and in-app purchases — the latter is common in games available in app stores today.

And that plan is lucrative. According to app analytics company Distimo, in-app purchases generated a record 76% of all revenue in the Apple App store in February of this year, and 71% of that revenue was generated by free apps with built-in in-app purchases.

Free-to-play games are so successful that major companies like Electronic Arts have moved smash franchises like Real Racing and Plants vs. Zombies to that model because it often means higher revenue in the long run than a $3.99 one-time purchase. It allows mobile companies to survive and thrive without the $30 to $75 one-time purchase of console games, and to make more games in the long run.

Parents, it’s time to expect that your child will be bombarded with opportunities to pay for shortcuts when playing free-to-play games. Freemium apps aren’t for tricking people — they’re an effective economic model for an adult user base. If you don’t want your child to purchase in-app, parental controls that cut off purchase power in apps have been available for both the iPhone and Android for years.

If you can’t handle that, then mobile games aren’t the best form of entertainment for your kids.