The Implications of In App Purchases for Children

The mobile market is quickly becoming one of the largest, and highest earning game markets out there. The most popular form of revenue on the mobile market doesn’t lie with app purchases, but with in-app purchases (IAP) which are made after the game is downloaded. These IAP’s range anywhere from 99c, all the way to hundreds of dollars. And what do these purchases give you? In game content that would otherwise be locked away permanently or would have to be worked hard for over weeks of playing. For adults, these purchases are usually thought out decisions, with the player knowing exactly what they are doing, and what they are receiving. But what about children? Children’s games are a huge market on mobile as mobile devices are so easily accessible to kids.

But what implications can IAP’s have on children? Studies conducted in Europe examined how IAP's can subconsiously effect a childs behaviour. The study suggests that children are vulnverable to prompts to make IAP's if there is no restrictions on purchases and they are able to recieve something faster. These types of purchases offer instant gratification and reward, for doing basically nothing but use real money. This can have a negative effect on a childs behaviour and cause negative backlash such as continously purchasing items without their parents knowing. The study also mentions that kids that play games with advertisments and IAP's can have their behaviour change subconsciously and in the long term can effect purchasing behaviours. 

So what does this mean for game developers? When designing a game that is aimed at children, we should take certain steps to make sure that we aren't part of the problem. Simple steps such as making it known that our game has IAP's instead of hiding them could make a huge difference. Another way to help is by making IAP's purely cosmetic only, this eliminates the chance of kids buying something over and over again. When the upgrade is purely cosmetic, the need to purchase a powerup repeatadly is removed which takes away part of the problem, but doesn't completely remove it though.

Children are kids, and they don't always know the full extent of what they are doing. When it comes to IAP's in games, at the end of the day, they are playing a game. To them, they just want that new shiny item, or the new set of levels. 


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