Simon Read: 'Freemium' games allow unscrupulous firms to fleece kids

  • @simonnread

Reader Simon Moore gets in touch following a piece I wrote this week about computer games manufacturers "exploiting children" through so-called "freemium" games.

He relates the story of his son Tommy who, when six, played a game called Little Pets on his mum's iPhone. All harmless fun, his parents thought – until they checked their mail one day and discovered, to their horror, a series of invoices from iTunes.

Each one was a receipt for £69.99 for the purchase of acorns used in the Little Pets game. To keep the pets alive they had to be fed acorns, and Tommy had simply pressed a button to get the acorns when asked, not knowing that they actually cost money.

He had done so 10 times, meaning his mum's account had been drained of almost £700. Simon tried to contact the firm behind the game – which only had a PO Box address in Florida – and then turned to his bank to see if they could get the cash back. No, was the answer.

"After considering our options, we realised that an unscrupulous company based thousands of miles away, which charges £69.99 on in-app purchases on a kids' game, probably wasn't likely to be honest or care what people thought ... We had little option but to put it down to experience and acknowledge we had been scammed," Simon says.

He's not alone. And that's why the practice should be outlawed. Playing games should be fun, not used to trick children into putting their parents into debt.