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Apple: Fix the IAP issue before it becomes a scandal

By on April 17, 2012
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Apple is not known as the most responsive company in the world. It is run in the image of its late autocratic founder.

The latest class action lawsuit filed against Apple ought to prompt it to change its spots. I hope that it does.

Gamezebo reports on a class-action suit filed by

“disgruntled parents against Apple about what they term as “bait apps” but what we call freemium games, or games that are free to play but require purchases of virtual goods to progress.”

I disagree with the characterisation of freemium games as “bait apps”, but I believe strongly that no one should be unclear about what they are getting into when they buy IAP. It should be easy for parents to ensure that their children do not buy stuff without their permission.

Gamezebo calls for Apple to stop using lawyers to brush this issue under the carpet and instead to change its policies to make IAP a well-understood, positive part of the games environment. They have four ways to improve IAP:

  • Removing the 15 minute password window
  • Putting a limit on the amount of micro-transactions that can be purchased at a time (similar to how credit card companies track fraudulent activity)
  • Publishing a credit refund policy more prominent than hidden in the terms of service
  • If the onus is on its game partners, enforce the refund rules with game developers and if a game developer does not issue a refund, punish them.

I agree with all of these points, and call on Apple to take action. Do you agree? Anything else you would like to see Apple do?

 

(Thanks to @RoryB for the tip)

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com
  • thats good for apple..!

  • johnsde

    Yes, some players are definitely cheating the refund system.
    For a game with virtual currency, they can buy an IAP multiple times, ask for a refund later and keep the virtual currency. There should be a way where developers know which player got a refund to remove the virtual currency or decrease its level (if it’s an online game where everything is stored on a server).

  • That’s exactly how it works. 

    1. You fill out a form.
    2. Apple reviews your app and rejects/re-rates it in case it sees objectionable content.
    3. Rating is clearly visible below the app icon, and parental controls respect it.

    I have no idea how this is done on other stores (e.g. Google Play), but since the article is about Apple’s policies, I think it’s sufficient to focus on that.

  • Guess t

    No I mean official ratings that would be required to be shown before download, and parental options that would be set up in app before it could be played.

  • You mean, the ratings form like the one we already have to fill out before submitting the app to the iOS App Store?

    You mean, like the parental controls for IAPs already available in the Settings app?

    🙂

  • Overall, the solutions are very nice for customers and I pretty much like them as safety mechanisms!

    However…


    15 minute password window: I haven’t seen it can be turned off, but I believe it. If it isn’t already, it should be turned off by default. But I definitely want to be able to turn it on. I may be getting several apps on the App Store, and being thrown to the  home screen already irritates me.

    My last larger “shopping spree” was getting iWork a few months ago. I decided to get all the apps. Unfortunately, being thrown to the home screen almost made me give up on getting the two other apps. And that was only for three apps. I don’t remember if I was prompted for the password at the time, but if I was, I surely wasn’t too happy about it.

    So while I think by default the window shouldn’t be on, I definitely want the ability to turn it on. And I want to stay in the App Store app while getting apps.


    I definitely agree with the policy on giving users the ability to limit the number of transactions (including the total number of money spent) over a period of time. But that needs to be adjustable. I don’t get many apps, but (as in the iWork example) I may want to temporarily allow myself to spend $30 on 3 apps. In my use case, getting 3 paid apps at a time and spending more than $5 at a time is atypical behavior. Do I want to get blocked in this case? No.

    But that it should be implemented because of irresponsible parents, definitely.

    By the way, why aren’t parental controls restricting IAPs turned on while the child is playing?


    Now, regarding iOS and refunds.

    As you already know, devs don’t get any feedback regarding refunds; it’s all handled by Apple. But there is also another bad side effect.

    Does the user get the unpaid-for app or add-on removed? No.
    Does the dev get a way to remove IAP-purchased add-on? No.
    Well, how would the dev remove IAP-purchased, but refunded, in-game currency?

    I really, really am disappointed by the occasionally appearing black marks on the graphs that denote refunds. And those are almost always refunds for the paid version of the game. Which costs $1.99. And, as far as I know, the player gets to keep the app.

    So someone got my paid game, demanded a refund, and got to keep it? As far as I know (since I don’t get feedback and I can’t track refunded-game players), I can only conclude that this player is a possible “legal pirate”.

    Same certainly happens with IAPs! Consider a VOIP app, with the user purchasing, for example, $50 worth of credit using IAP. That’s actual money loss for the VOIP company.

    So let’s first deliver notifications to developers and their apps about refunds before demanding better customer experience.

    See also this interesting discussion:
    http://www.iphonedevsdk.com/forum/business-legal-app-store/101178-iap-refunds.html

  • Sik

    The 15 minutes part has been fixed as soon as the scandal broke out. Apple is being sued on grounds of what happened before they did that change.

    And yes, I also wonder why they didn’t request entering the password every time. OK, you could argue it may be annoying – then why not make the window be specific to a given phone feature/app? E.g. the window may apply to the app store, but when you enter the app the window is reset. But if you buy something within the app, the window applies again (until it expires or you quit the app). This would have also prevented all this problem.

    Also, one thing I’ve seen mentioned in Gamasutra but not here: apparently the judge is considering that advertising freemium apps as free is false advertising, since you can spend money in them. This may be something to take into account, not just by Apple, but by all F2P game developers.

  • Guess t

    You could define it the same way PEGI or ESRB do. It would take 5 minutes for the developer to fill out a similar certification form. Games for kids could have additional parental options/locks. Developers caught not adhering could be fined or banned. I’m just saying, more parental options, yes, more friction, no.

  • Guess t

    You could define it the same way PEGI or ESRB do. It would take 5 minutes for the developer to fill out a similar certification form. Games for kids could have additional parental options/locks. Developers caught not adhering could be fined or banned. I’m just saying, more parental options, yes, more friction, no.

  • How do you define a game aimed at children? Plants versus Zombies? Smurfville? DragonVale? Temple Run?

    Maybe the best idea is to have a password required by default every time, but allow a user to change that to 15 minutes, or whatever.

  • Guess t

    Putting in the password as frequently as every 15mins is already too much friction for most users. And what if I want to purchase frequently? It’s my money! In an ideal world iOS games designed for children would require additional measures/ratings/certification perhaps even self-certification as part of the sub process to make them appropriate for their audience. Clearly a game aimed at Children should have additional measures. IMO that’s what we should be asking for. 

  • Parents can already turn the 15 minute password window off if they want to.