A mother has filed a class action complaint in California against Google over in-app purchases made by her son. The story begins with the mother buying a 99¢ game, Marvel Run Jump Smash, for her son. By buying the game, her Google account was left authenticated for 30-minutes (by design) so that in-app purchases would not require a password. In that 30-minute window, her son bought $65.95 in virtual in-game currency known as crystals.
The problem is described in a 22-page complaint (pdf): “Google entices the child with a free or inexpensive (e.g., $0.99) download of a gaming platform that then offers the sale of irresistible Game Currency in order to enjoy the game as it was designed to be ‘played.’ Within seconds of ‘playing’ the game, one is led to a screen that sells virtual currency, so that the “player” can “build” things or “have” other virtual things.” The complaint also calls these free or cheap games as a “bait-and-switch business scheme”.
Apple has faced similar complaints from consumers and lawmakers alike. In 2013 Apple reached a $100 million settlement in a class action suit over the very same in-app purchase issue. Before the settlement was reached, in fact three years + 1 day ago, Apple saw the writing on the wall and with the release of iOS 4.3, Apple changed their in-app purchase policy to require a password for each purchase thus thwarting youngsters’ dreams of building virtual empires behind their parents’ back.
Although the settlement was reached last year, according to Recode Apple is still struggling to comply with the terms of the settlement.
It is surprising that Google didn’t follow Apple’s lead regarding in-app purchases, but it’s also easy to see why. In-app purchases make Google money, likely more money than this lawsuit will cost them. Consumers, obviously, are a little hesitant to take the internet giant to court and likely eat the costs calling it a lesson learned.
Gamers, unsurprisingly, don’t much care for games that essentially require purchasing virtual currency just to keep the game moving along. Thomas Baekdal lays out a pretty damning case against EA’s reboot of the 90’s classic Dungeon Keeper in his article How In-app Purchases Have Destroyed The Industry. In the article are a pair of YouTube videos comparing the original with the reboot (audio nsfw) that show just how bad the situation has become.