I woke up early on Sunday morning when my phone buzzed on the bedside table. It was an incoming email. I wish I could ignore these things, but I’m an early riser, a light sleeper, and a smartphone notification addict — so I really had no choice. I checked it.
It was an iTunes invoice. I opened it up, and it showed me what I expected to see: an in-app purchase against store credit. Our seven year old son, C, had received a $20 iTunes voucher for his birthday, and I finally relented after months of pleading to let him use the credit for an in-app purchase, rather than buying an actual game. Or an album. Or a movie. Or, god forbid, a book. So I flipped the switch to allow in-app purchases, and forgot about it.
I can hear you groaning now. Yes, I know. This was a mistake.
I didn’t think it would be a problem, because I watched him make the purchase and play the game for at least ten minutes or more. I knew there was a fifteen minute window where the iTunes account wouldn’t need to be re-entered for further purchases, and I was pretty sure I was clear of that. After all, C didn’t know the password, he came to me every time he wanted a free game downloaded, so I could enter it for him.
My phone buzzed in my hand again. Another email from iTunes. This one, however, wasn’t against store credit, it was against my MasterCard. $12.99 for a 168 Mithril package on Star Warfare Alien Invasion. Was that a good deal? How much does a Mithril normally go for in the real world?
The answer, of course, is not a fucking thing. It’s like paying someone money for them to fart.
I was really awake now. C was in for a bollocking.
My phone buzzed again. Another email from iTunes. this time an invoice for a 666 Mithril package for $37.99.
Something inside me went cold and travelled from spine to stomach. Oh no, I thought. Oh no. My phone buzzed again. Another 666 Mithril for $37.99. And again, a chest of coins for Pixel Gun 3D, $24.99. Then another, and another, and another. Invoices continued to trickle through, and by eleven o’clock there were fourteen of them, totaling just over $420.
I had the restriction lifted for about half a day, and he managed to clock up over $400 worth of empty crap. It’s not that hard to do, when you look at some of these games and what their in-app purchases cost. Q: Who would spend $50 on a box of bullets to use in an iPad game? A: a seven year old boy.
This all came to my attention on a Sunday, which meant I had to wait until Monday to call Apple support to try and sort the mess out. Fortunately, when I eventually did find a way through the support maze, the girl on the other end of the phone was very helpful and didn’t once call me a moron. Can’t say I’d have had the same degree of self-control if our positions had been reversed. C is now enjoying a lengthy (possibly permanent) ban on all forms of electronic devices, and Apple refunded all of my unplanned Mithril purchases — though we’re not telling C that, not until his 18th birthday.
You know what shook me the most about this experience? It wasn’t the sheer gall of games creators like Alex Krasnov, Glu Games and iFreyr Games, who seem to think it’s perfectly reasonable to charge fifty bucks for shit which only exists within their games, shit which is only ever going to be purchased by the very young and the very stoned who don’t realise what they’re doing. That pissed me off, still does, but the thing which really threw me was C pretending for all those months that he didn’t know our iTunes password. Dad, this game is free and there’s no guns or blood. Can you download it for me?
He was pulling a long con, and he’s only seven. And I fell for it. I’m both frightened and impressed.