Capcom has figured out a way to create the highest-grossing application in the iTunes store with a completely free application, The Smurfs Village. What’s the secret? Selling in-game items that you purchase with real-life money.
Facebook applications have been doing this for years with games like Farmville and Mafia Wars. Players purchase tokens that allow them to build bigger farms or replenish their energy so that they can build up their empires quicker. When players want to purchase these tokens, they enter their credit card information, click submit, and they’re in business.
With devices that link directly to iTunes (like the iPad and iPhone), users can purchase these items without needing to provide credit card information because that data is already part of the iTunes store. The result is that children playing the game can potentially spend their parents’ money without any adult knowledge.
Apple requires a password for iTunes after 15 minutes of inactivity, but some people are claiming that the Capcom game is bypassing this requirement. One user said that he hadn’t entered his iTunes password at all for the entire day but his son was able to purchase $67 worth of Smurfberries anyway.
To Apple’s credit, all of the people interviewed for the story received full refunds for the accidental purchases. In addition, Apple has stated that parents can restrict in-app purchases for extra protection.