"The Smurfs' Village," a game for the iPhone and other Apple gadgets, was released a month ago and quickly became the highest-grossing application in the iTunes store. Yet it's free to download.
So where does the money come from? Kelly Rummelhart of Gridley, Calif., has part of the answer. Her 4-year-old son was using her iPad to play the game and racked up $66.88 in charges on her credit card without knowing what he was doing.
Rummelhart had no idea that it was possible to buy things - buy them with real money - inside the game. In this case, her son bought one bushel and 11 buckets of "Smurfberries," tokens that speed up gameplay.
"Really, my biggest concern was them scratching the screen. Never in my wildest dreams did I think they would be charging things on it," the 36-year-old mother said.
She counts herself lucky that her son didn't start tapping on another purchase button, like the "wheelbarrow" of Smurfberries for $59.99.
Rummelhart joins a number of parents who have been horrified by purchases of Smurfberries and other virtual items in top App Store games. The 17 highest-rated comments on "The Smurfs' Village" in the App Store all complain about the high cost of the Smurfberries, and two commenters call it a "scam."
This year, developers have started to use the system in earnest as the main revenue stream for many games. Of the 10 highest-grossing apps in the App Store, six are games that are free to download but allow in-app purchases. Four of those are easy, child-friendly games. Two of them, "Tap Zoo" and "Bakery Story," have buttons for in-app purchases of $100 in just two taps.
It's quite likely that most of the money pulled in by these games comes from addicted adults who want to quickly build their Smurf villages, bakeries, zoos and zombie farms. But there's a loophole in the in-app purchase process that children stick their fingers through.
Usually, the purchases require the owner of the device to enter his or her iTunes password. But there is no password challenge if the owner has entered the password in the last 15 minutes for any reason. That means that if a user enters the password for a purchase or a free app upgrade, then hands the phone or iPad over to a kid, the child will not be stopped by a password prompt.
Capcom and other game publishers have no control over the 15-minute password-free period, which is set by Apple.
However, there's reason to believe that the password timeout doesn't always work.. Click Here for more info.
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