Google to stop referring to games with in-app purchases as 'free'

The 'freemium' model has proven to be a huge success, both for app developers and consumers, although not everyone is happy with the way that it works. Freemium apps are available to download free of charge, but access to certain features is restricted. Depending on how the developer sets things up, users may be able to purchase the 'full' version of an app for a one-time fee, or may otherwise be encouraged to buy access to individual features through in-app purchases. 

It's the latter option that has led to some complaints, particularly among parents concerned that their children are being targeted with the promise of free software that later encourages them to spend large amounts of money on new features and upgrades. Some purchases can be automatically debited from the credit card of the device owner and there have been numerous examples of children running up bills of thousands of dollars for game add-ons. 

The European Union has been looking into this in recent weeks, asking both Google and Apple to address these issues in their respective app stores. 

Google has now said that it will stop using the word 'free' to describe games with in-app purchases, as well as introducing specific guidelines for developers to prevent them from targeting children and encouraging them to buy more. These changes will be implemented in late September, but while Google has responded with a commitment to action, the EU has expressed disappointment that Apple has so far failed to do so. 

In a statement to Engadget, Apple pointed out that it already has rigorous parental controls available on its devices, and that its App Store clearly flags software with in-app purchases. It also drew attention to the 'Kids Section' of the App Store, which it says offers "even stronger protections to cover apps designed for children younger than 13."

In iOS 7.1, the company also added alerts displayed after an in-app purchase is made, warning that further payments may be debited for the next 15 minutes without entering the account password again. Apple only added this feature after a class-action lawsuit was brought against the company by irate parents. 

Apple added in its statement that its controls "go far beyond the features of others in the industry. But we are always working to strengthen the protections we have in place". It also said that it "will continue to work with the EC member states to respond to their concerns."

The European Commission said it was 'regrettable that "no concrete and immediate solutions have been made by Apple to date to address the concerns linked in particular to payment authorisation, [but] Apple has proposed to address those concerns. However, no firm commitment and no timing have been provided for the implementation of such possible future changes", unlike Google, which has set out its planned compliance schedule as described above. 

Source: European Commission via Engadget 
Girl looking at games on iPad Air image via Bloom Design / Shutterstock.com

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I hope this will make it easier to find truly free games. At the moment if you try to find such a game (truly free, no IAP) you need to sift through mostly IAP-games with only a few that are truly free. You'd think there would be a filter for those, but there isn't (or I couldn't find it at least).

While this is an overdue and good thing, am I the only one that looks at this from the bad parenting angle? I mean, in all honesty, if children can't understand the concept and value of money and spending on in app purchases, should parents really be throwing iPads and what not at them?

Might just be me thinking its a bad thing.

Personally I'd like to see Microsoft follow through and start adding a third category for apps in their stores that follow this behaviour as well. Have "Free" which is completely free, with the option to remove supporting ads for a small one-time payment, "Paid/Trial" which work as you'd expect, and "Freemium" which is where the blood suckers reside.

I also have no issues with Free apps having paid for upgrades or add-on packs, on the condition that they are genuine additions, not unlocks of the core app. Taptiles does this in Windows 8.1, and the game works just fine without purchasing the few extra packs they have available for example, therefore, it's fine categorised as a "Free" game. However, a game like Airport City which is specifically structured around forcing in-app purchases by making the "Free" model impossibly frustrating or lengthy to progress through, is most definitely a "Freemium" app.

I'd also like them to stop categorising apps that are trials, but not unlockable using the Windows Store trial model, as "Free" too. They aren't free, but because the Windows store isn't the controller turning it into a "Full" version, they seem to be allowed to be deceptively miscategorised.

Free (to download) with in-app purchases. What could be clearer?

Apple is right in saying that they shouldn't need to do anything more to highlight that apps have in-app purchases.

What they should implement is either: -

(a) Multiple user accounts; or
(b) Child mode.

(a) would be the preferred option as it has more potential for other things also, but (b) would work for this purpose alone. The child mode would simply disable purchasing of any kind, you would be able to choose what rating apps, movies etc. it can download, and would require a password to turn it off.

Restrictions works for this purpose already, but if you're letting a child use your own device it must be a pain to have to keep going to settings and changing them all the time.

The cash grab that 99 percent of the games on the market is getting ridiculous. I'd rather pay 5-15 bucks for a quality game.. The way mobile gaming is isnt helping. Its turning customers off.

I've been playing a baseball game for a few months called MLB Perfect Inning, I've spent 45 bucks on just buying new players. Its ridiculous. I drew the line after that.

Wish all "Free to play" games would quit using the word 'free'. F2P games are NEVER 100% free. In fact, in most cases, it ends up costing a lot more.

darkthunder said,
Wish all "Free to play" games would quit using the word 'free'. F2P games are NEVER 100% free. In fact, in most cases, it ends up costing a lot more.

That isn't strictly true.

If you want a watered down version or a version that requires real money to realistically advance you're fine.

If you're like me who pays for the app and expects an ad free experience, you're screwed.

actually, the problem with these games is that once they are announced as free parents stop caring about them, while in fact some aren't really free because of in game purchases (what, are you gonna check everyday if that game becomes a freemium?), that will cost you more money then a single, fat buy (buying in more quantities but with less money generates more money).
Also those in game purchases are there to give the player an edge versus the other who don't pay: in makes them lose less time griding or gives them an unique object, making the game very unbalanced.

Same thing with Asphalt 8 Airborne.... they now have some cars which you have to buy to use/play it with REAL money not game credits.

Never brought an app. These pay 2 win models are frustrating. Would prefer to buy the full game like you normally can do on pc

Apple's parental controls and general lockouts on their devices are better than others in the industry, when people actually learn to use them. I love Android, but was impressed with iOS when I was setting the lockouts on my mom's phone so the grand kids couldn't buy things.

On a similar note, I hate in-app purchases for most games. I like getting a free demo and deciding if the game is worth the purchase price, I think games like AutoRap and Magic Piano should have fees associated with using protected content (ie music). But I DO NOT enjoy having to buy more arrows for my troops or for faster farmers!

TurboAAA said,
Apple's parental controls and general lockouts on their devices are better than others in the industry, when people actually learn to use them.
You say that yet only this year Apple was required by the FTC to pay out a minimum of $32.5m to customers who were charged for purchases without consent.

How about simply not linking in-app purchases to your phone bill or credit/debit card and limiting spending power by using voucher or pre paid card - it's not difficult....

theyarecomingforyou said,
You say that yet only this year Apple was required by the FTC to pay out a minimum of $32.5m to customers who were charged for purchases without consent.

I doubt any of the parents in this case were using any of the controls available to them. Parents usually don't like to enable them due to thinking they are hard to use or don't like the idea of having the kids always asking to have a password typed in. I have had parents ask for my help enabling controls and lockouts, but then later have me turn them off because it wasn't convenient.

Depicus said,
Then sadly you don't know how much extra money the freemium model can make. If you can get a user to buy a game for $0.99 but maybe not sell as many but spend $15-20 on in-app purchases. Maybe that is why Candy Crush takes in close to $1 million a day in in-app purchases as apposed to $30k if it charged for the app.

http://thinkgaming.com/app-sales-data/2/candy-crush-saga/

I never said anything about how much each model makes for developers. Obviously in-app purchases makes them more because that is what they have embraced. I was simply expressing my opinion that I don't enjoy it.

TurboAAA said,
I doubt any of the parents in this case were using any of the controls available to them. Parents usually don't like to enable them due to thinking they are hard to use or don't like the idea of having the kids always asking to have a password typed in. I have had parents ask for my help enabling controls and lockouts, but then later have me turn them off because it wasn't convenient.
The problem is that games are being targeted as kids and use obscene in-game transactions. Kids don't have any perception of money and end up racking up massive bills because they think they're just playing a game (they don't understand that real money is involved).

To me the issue of parental controls is irrelevant, as the games are targeted at kids.

theyarecomingforyou said,
...
To me the issue of parental controls is irrelevant, as the games are targeted at kids.

Yes it is an issue that they are targeting kids (not an Apple issue, its the developers doing it btw). But no kid can buy anything if parental controls are enabled. My son can tap on that link all he wants but it won't give him any more diamonds until he does his chores and I enter my password.

I can't be angry at either Apple or developer if they give me control. Do I want to control the content on my devices or do I want developers to do it for me? Maybe it's because I work in IT but I could not live in a world where I do not have lockouts for things.

at last! we need a clear indication that this game have in app purchases!
to be fair some games doesnt require you to pay for anything to finish the game but still an option.

recursive said,
If you actually pay attention before installing stuff, you would see that it shows up in the permissions dialog.

But kids don't.. hence the concern and questioning of those types of games.

Enron said,
I stopped buying apps because most of them are useless gimmicks.

It's even worse when your "paid" app becomes freemium.

Oh how I hate that.

Enron said,
I stopped buying apps because most of them are useless gimmicks.

Time to switch over from WP to a real platform like iOS or Android then.

recursive said,

Time to switch over from WP to a real platform like iOS or Android then.

Boss, the irony in that statement is overwhelming.

I never really bought any apps... Free 'Sample' games are good enough to try and get and idea, I don't need anymore than that really...

warwagon said,
Why is there a picture of an iOS device when talking about the google play store.

I guess because the article mainly focuses on Apple and not google.
#misleading

Adam1V said,

I guess because the article mainly focuses on Apple and not google.
#misleading


Actually the article focuses on both Google and Apple. Google for doing the right thing and Apple for not yet doing the right thing.

Depicus said,
Please explain what "the right thing" might be... so far I see all app stores are doing very similar things.

Had you read the article it clearly states this...
"Google has now said that it will stop using the word 'free' to describe games with in-app purchases, as well as introducing specific guidelines for developers to prevent them from targeting children and encouraging them to buy more. These changes will be implemented in late September, but while Google has responded with a commitment to action, the EU has expressed disappointment that Apple has so far failed to do so. "

Depicus said,
Please explain what "the right thing" might be... so far I see all app stores are doing very similar things.

What he meant was
while Google has responded with a commitment to action, EU has expressed disappointment that Apple has so far failed to do so
right or wrong atleast google said it will do as EU asked but apple.. well

ultimatescar said,

What he meant was
while Google has responded with a commitment to action, EU has expressed disappointment that Apple has so far failed to do so
right or wrong atleast google said it will do as EU asked but apple.. well

Ok but

a) I don't see what all the fuss is about in the first place - it's called parental responsibility

b) Not sure how Google stopping calling a free app free is going to stop anything, and unless they ban developers from using the word free not sure much will change. Also introducing guidelines not to target kids to make they buy is laughable and like telling McDonalds to get rid of the clown.

Gergel7077 said,

Actually the article focuses on both Google and Apple. Google for doing the right thing and Apple for not yet doing the right thing.

Thanks captain obvious but I merely mentioned it "mainly" focuses on Apple

Depicus said,

Ok but

a) I don't see what all the fuss is about in the first place - it's called parental responsibility

b) Not sure how Google stopping calling a free app free is going to stop anything, and unless they ban developers from using the word free not sure much will change. Also introducing guidelines not to target kids to make they buy is laughable and like telling McDonalds to get rid of the clown.


But but but,
a) It's not just parental responsibility but a responsibility of the app creators and Google\Apple not deceiving people into believing that an app labeled as FREE really isn't free. It's a profiting tactic to take advantage of the most vulnerable, children, and parents not realizing that in-app purchases can take place without their knowledge. That's a deception that thankfully Google has agreed to remedy.
b) I agree that Google can do more than just not calling something free anymore but at least it's a step in the right direction. In addition, Google has also said it will make all restrictions to in-app purchases turned on by default.
c) The best way to ensure their is no confusion or deception is to make all free apps entirely free, meaning no in-app purchases. Or, if the creators don't want to make it free, then make an entirely paid app where the user pays for full access to the app, again avoiding in-app purchases since everything is already paid for.

Adam1V said,

Thanks captain obvious but I merely mentioned it "mainly" focuses on Apple


It's pretty obvious that you can't fully understand the full scope of a story and you choose to focus more on the Apple portion of the story. That makes it pretty obvious to me of your narrow mindedness.

Gergel7077 said,

c) The best way to ensure their is no confusion or deception is to make all free apps entirely free, meaning no in-app purchases. Or, if the creators don't want to make it free, then make an entirely paid app where the user pays for full access to the app, again avoiding in-app purchases since everything is already paid for.

Sadly making $1 million per day -v- $30k makes in app purchases a gold mine that is never going away. Banning in app also affects apps like Runkeeper who increased membership because they could sell in app and you could hardly say they push or hide in app purchases. Let's not punish everybody because some stupid people were stupid.

Awesome. I'm sick of this freemium model anyway. Give it to me free or let me pay for a full game without the pay2win nonsense...