So, an interesting thing happened last Sunday: I got an email receipt from Apple for $59.99 for a… “Wheelbarrow of Smurfberries”. I had that immediate sinking feeling you get when you know exactly what’s ahead.
Lucas had been playing with the iPad the previous night and, since he can’t read, had inadvertently purchased these in the (very confusing) Smurf’s Village store. Since we had downloaded another app recently (Uno, recommended as long as you turn the sound off), he wasn’t prompted for my password, so was able to barrel right through the purchase (sorry…) Anyway, I was sure I had a long discussion with Apple and then my credit card company ahead, but Apple was quite nice about it and refunded the money right away (and yep, we deleted Smurf’s Village from the iPad, never to return. Sorry Smurfs.)
Little did I know that this was actually going to become a big news story. From a business point of view, I think that Apple’s going to have some In-app purchase damage control to do. The developer community is excited about the possibilities of in-app purchase, especially with these sort of virtual currencies, since you can have people (in my opinion, crazy people) who will buy hundreds of dollars worth of Smurfberries or “Zap” (WeCity) or whatever. They even have a name for these people: “whales”. But it’s starting to look like Apple (and Capcom) is going to have to do some backpedaling on this since it’s so damn easy for your kids to buy this junk.
Then I got a little worried and started thinking: well, we’ve got a kids game, and we’ve got in-app purchase… are we going to be painted with this “selling junk to kids” brush as well? And here’s why I think we’re not:
1. We don’t have high dollar “consumable” items that be purchased again and again.
2. Our in-app store is pretty clear about putting $ signs on everything (and nothing’s above $4.99)
3. The “purchase” button is small by design (to avoid inadvertent clicks)
4. After you upgrade to the Deluxe version, you never have to make another purchase again (in fact, you can’t, at least with the same account). You’ll get access to all the newest piece packs.
5. The free app is compelling in and of itself without any of the upgrades (in my humble opinion).
6. There’s no in-app advertising in the free version.
So, having said all this, I think I can now sleep a little easier.