D'oh-nuts: 8-year-old spends $1460 on virtual snacks in Simpsons iPad game

If you feel a sense of déjà-vu while reading this article, you're probably not alone - this is just the latest in a long line of incidents featuring unsupervised children spending enormous sums of real money on virtual assets in freemium apps. 

Today's episode takes us to England's green and pleasant land, and the city of Bristol, where eight-year-old Theo Rowland-Fry lives. Theo is apparently a fan of The Simpsons, and his parents Nick and Lisa allowed him to use the family's Apple iPad to play a game based on the show. The Simpsons: Tapped Out is a freemium app - free to download, with in-app purchases readily available - from EA Mobile, and is among the most popular games available on the App Store and in Google's Play Store. 

Theo evidently loved the game, playing it regularly for weeks on end. But by the beginning of this month, Nick and Lisa discovered that their bank account had been drained and as The Telegraph reports, it didn't take long to find out who the culprit was. 

Over the course of six weeks, Theo had spent £980 GBP (around $1460 USD / €1130 EUR) on buying virtual doughnuts in the game. His father said that "there were more than 100 purchases on iTunes for between £1.50 and £75.00", adding that the family had "received no emails alerting us to what was happening". 

Of course, Nick and Lisa couldn't blame the boy for his enthusiastic gameplay; as Nick conceded, "Theo is only just eight and has no real concept of the monetary value attached". Apple evidently sympathised with this, and refunded the amount in full; while the company already offers parental controls, and naturally expects some degree of parental responsibility in how children use devices, it says that it reviews the circumstances of each incident on a case-by-case basis. 

Even so, one has to wonder how many more of these stories will continue to emerge before parents everywhere understand the importance of imposing the proper restrictions and controls on how their children can use connected devices, rather than pleading ignorance after the event, and expecting companies to return their money. 

Source: The Telegraph | Image via HQwallpapers4free

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61 Comments

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ilovetech said,
they should use wp8 kids corner..

I agree with this. I use it all the time with my child, and i never have to fear about any of this. For families, this is a must have feature and I think with WP8, Microsoft has nailed it.

> Theo is only just eight and has no real concept of the monetary value attached

Ummm...what? So exactly when were these parents planning to teach their kid about the "concept of monetary value"??? When he's a teenager? When he gets his first car? College?

At the age of 8, I would've known I'd have to spend a few *summers* in a row doing chores around the house and for the neighbors to earn enough money to get an iPad (had it existed back then), let alone earn $1500 to spend on a game. If this kid is like most I know, he probably got the iPad for Christmas or his birthday, and I'll bet he gets an allowance in exchange of...absolutely nothing.

My argument would be "why is there something in a game that costs £98 in the first place?" (2,400 doughnuts, which is the first item for sale that is displayed).

The game makers are hoping you click on it by accident.

Think of all of the real donuts that could have been purchased with that much money.... seems like a huge ripoff to me.
Shame on the parents for not knowing/monitoring/etc, and shame on EA/Apple for intentionally trying to squeeze every penny possible from people.

I think the parents refusing to chastise their child is the biggest problem here. 8 year olds certainly *are* old enough to understand the basics of money. They might not realise how much £1,000 really is but they can cope with 'don't spend mom's cash without asking'.

Laura said,
I think the parents refusing to chastise their child is the biggest problem here. 8 year olds certainly *are* old enough to understand the basics of money.

The legal system fundamentally disagree with you, which is why children are treated differently under the law to adults.

And the law is stupid many kids can learn at a early age if you bothered putting time with them, the law just makes a excuse for lazy parenting.

Can one block this in any way?
Not having used W8/Metro for this yet, buth with user profiles and such it should be able to lock the ability for in-game purchases, wouldn't it?
If so, this would make a good argument for parents buying a Surface or other W8 RT tablet.

Not a fanboy remark, just a curious question...

Dutchie64 said,
Can one block this in any way?
Not having used W8/Metro for this yet, buth with user profiles and such it should be able to lock the ability for in-game purchases, wouldn't it?
If so, this would make a good argument for parents buying a Surface or other W8 RT tablet.

Not a fanboy remark, just a curious question...

Yes don't store your card details - easy

my main gripe is why do you have to spend so frezking much on microtransactions to play a darn game... what's next to have houses built in simcity you have to pay $1 per house or else tough, no house will be built?.......

neufuse said,
my main gripe is why do you have to spend so frezking much on microtransactions to play a darn game... what's next to have houses built in simcity you have to pay $1 per house or else tough, no house will be built?.......

I've been playing this game for a while now and have bought nothing with real money, reaching level 15/26 so far...freemium games allow you to unlock nearly everything if you have enough patience, in the case of this game there are just a few buildings which require donuts and all of them are not "core" buildings from the series (Frink's Lab, the Bond-style supervillain fortress, etc.)...so premium purchases are more like the modern day equivalent of cheat codes, simply allowing you access to stuff much faster and with no actual effort put into the game.

lecter said,

I've been playing this game for a while now and have bought nothing with real money, reaching level 15/26 so far...freemium games allow you to unlock nearly everything if you have enough patience, in the case of this game there are just a few buildings which require donuts and all of them are not "core" buildings from the series (Frink's Lab, the Bond-style supervillain fortress, etc.)...so premium purchases are more like the modern day equivalent of cheat codes, simply allowing you access to stuff much faster and with no actual effort put into the game.

that's for this specific game, but you can see games making you buy to go further into the game in the future... heck we had that in the 90's..... buying levels for Wolfenstein and such

I wish refunds would stop being given on cases like this. If you're stupid enough to let your kid have free access to your money like this, you deserve to lose every bit of however much you lose.

Ok, I could swindle you out of everything you have in a few hours (believe me I can)...then I can blame you for not having secured you're assets better. Just because I'm smarter than you doesn't mean I have the right to take you're money.

Blackhearted said,
I wish refunds would stop being given on cases like this. If you're stupid enough to let your kid have free access to your money like this, you deserve to lose every bit of however much you lose.

Alternative perspective: I wish developers would stop designing freemium games specifically targeted at children who have no concept of the value of money in the hope that the parents won't notice it.

I not gonna blame parents in this case because EA made it easy to purchase the doughnuts in the first place i played the game and its easy to push the doughnut button for quick build my daughter did that with the first doughnut amount but for a younger child there not reading it. When it does says more doughnuts it does not safe guard its too easy. More then likely EA wanted it that way.

the game also badly designed,
in 80s games, to ensure the gamer ages,
the game asking series of question that should've common knowledge for particular age.

if that was possible in 80s, why its no longer done in 201x games ?

Torolol said,
the game also badly designed,
in 80s games, to ensure the gamer ages,
the game asking series of question that should've common knowledge for particular age.

if that was possible in 80s, why its no longer done in 201x games ?

I never saw a game like that in the 80's... heck I didn't see simple questions in games until the late 90's to verify anything

Nonsense. I argue that a "traditional" home would mean that parents took responsibility for social aspects of their children's education. I say it's far from "traditional" to give a kid a tool and take no responsibility for how they use that too!

yeah,
but must not forget, those parent are coming from traditional home themself,
during their youth there no such thing as their own toy that have capability to directly access to their parent wallets.

and thus, they are not prepared for stuff like virtual products.

do they got Credit Cards as toy in their youth?

100% the parents fault. Not Apple and certainly not EA.

Don't use the correct parental controls, that's your own stupid fault. Props to Apple on this one.

Nashy said,
100% the parents fault. Not Apple and certainly not EA.

Don't use the correct parental controls, that's your own stupid fault. Props to Apple on this one.

Immoral and exploitative business practices targeted at children are the fault of the parents? We're talking about a game specifically aimed at children who have no idea about the value of money. I think it's disgusting to blame it all on the parents.

Children need to be protecting from predatory business practices. Already there are laws preventing adverts targeted at children - I think it's clear that those protections need to be expanded into the freemium market.

Nashy said,
100% the parents fault. Not Apple and certainly not EA.

Don't use the correct parental controls, that's your own stupid fault. Props to Apple on this one.

Try playing this game. 10 minutes into the game it has you spending donuts, then it gives you donuts, then you spend them and get instant gratification.

THEN IT TAKES THE DONUTS AWAY!!!! You only get _1_ when you level up... no more instant gratification.


This has the same effect on a child's brain as drugs do. They will lie, cheat, and steal to get the donuts. (or gems or whatever).

Freemium browser games are the worst because you can't stop your kid from stealing your credit card to pump them up. These apps are way easier to manage.

But it is EA's fault and no one elses. These parent's should take responsibility for not monitoring their child, but they are not at FAULT for shady business practices.

cooky560 said,
This is one of the many reasons why freemium games are a bad idea.

Why? They seem quite an effective business solution to me. No different that the likes of subscription based games. It's no the developers fault that people have no concept of money. These devices are getting more and more tied into our banks Freemium apps or not.

For you and the other corporate apologists, I'll clear it up for you. There are A LOT of genuinely stupid people out there, the same reason we have "Don't drink this" on cleaning chemicals. Companies prey on this stupidity and take total advantage of it. Despise government oversight, but nothing wrong with better control or setting limits on this stuff...ie anytime more than $50 is spent, certain action required etc. It's easy money and the only reason Apple cleaned this up was keep people playing and paying, nothing at all to do with being nice guys. You're logic of "stupid people deserve to be stolen from", means I could trick you out of money and then blame you for it...you'd be the first to cry foul I'm betting.

Whenever I buy anything via my iPhone, even if it's a free app I want to reinstall I'm prompted for my Apple ID password, so how does that work?

Neobond said,
Whenever I buy anything via my iPhone, even if it's a free app I want to reinstall I'm prompted for my Apple ID password, so how does that work?
Same here. I am always asked for a password.

Neobond said,
Whenever I buy anything via my iPhone, even if it's a free app I want to reinstall I'm prompted for my Apple ID password, so how does that work?

Ditto.

The kids know the password. So we're back to parental fail again.

I know Apple feel they're doing right by the parents by refunding in these cases but it's setting a bad precedent. If they end up having to fork out a grand or so cos they didn't secure their account properly they won't do it again.

Is there a way to lock my 4 year old son out of buying stuff in Angry Birds on Android? So far he's been less successful - 20 EUR or so ;-) I try to disable Internet connectivity every time I see him with my phone but on Android I'm normally always logged in to Market?

This is such utter BS. I recently spent 2 weeks with my family, including a 3 year old nephew and 8 year old niece! They both used their mother's iPad to play games, and some games had "Buy more..." options.

Firstly, they both knew not to buy anything. In fairness, they both knew a lot - don't talk to people in games you don't know, turn the volume down in public, etc.

Secondly, when my nephew did click by accident to get more gems or whatever, he said "Oh no" and gave his mum the iPad back. Moreover, I said about things like this and she said she doesn't store the password anyway.

This is NOT EA/Apple's fault. It's the parents.

This, I see kids being raised with the internet and all, and generally its free roam for them without any prior knowledge or info from their parents x.x.
And some are raised with info and knowledge and it shows, but also they are not immume to the Ackbars on the internet.
Password doesn't help, I knew my parents passcodes when I was young to everything. And this wasn't because they failed at it.
And on phones or tablets, passcodes are absolutely worthless, with a normal keyboards even with someone looking over your shoulder, it is still hard for them to guess the password you enter. On touch devices you clearly see what keys are being pressed an d if not just hold the screen sideways into the light and fatty fingers will tell you what characters are used in the password.

I'm really shocked that Apple refunded them, but seriously, parents who don't understand how something works shouldn't allow their Children to use it. Enable the Parental Controls or GTFO!

Well there are two sides to this problem:

1) parents not placing restrictions on what their kids can do with their devices
2) companies clearly misusing this fact by not making completely clear what the consequence and cost of an in game purchase is.

I fully expect that in the near future there will be some form of code/guideline that will be followed to remedy 2

bledd said,
####ing EA

i would say instead ####ing parents.
ipad is not a babysitter, at least enable the parental control and disable the in-app purchase (or make it ask the password every time).

Well there's also apple's side, how easy is it for parents to know there are controls and how they should be implemented.

It's that fine fine line between responsible company and over protective corporate (Think Vista and UAC)
That's one of the main problems with mobiles at the moment (other than windows 8 devices) and that's the fact they are single user, so you cant have a restricted profile for the kids and an "open" one for adults. Otherwise as an adult and the person who paid for the gear, you end up forever entering passwords etc, whilst the kids just sits there and goes 'meh'

My Nexus 7 has accounts and it's a truly awesome feature which all tablets should have...while on a phone it doesn't make much sense, a tablet is something pretty much everyone shares at one point or another.

Apple probably prefer that everyone in the family has their own iPad.

(I'm a Mac and iPad owner, don't taze me for the slightly anti-Apple remark!)

AlexMagik said,

i would say instead ####ing parents.
ipad is not a babysitter, at least enable the parental control and disable the in-app purchase (or make it ask the password every time).


Not only that. If you know your child is going to use an iOS device, why don't purchase prepaid cards instead? That can control how much money is spent.