Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Smurfberry Economy

Rather than fueling hyperinflation in a failed attempt to fix the economy, maybe Fed Chairman Ben Bernake should have just invested in Smurfberries. I hear they're a growth commodity, with China investing heavily in $59.99 wheelbarrows full of what they're now calling "blue gold."

It turns out that people are still a little bit fuzzy on the whole "in-app purchase" concept. Their first mistake was downloading Smurfs Village, Capcom's freemium/social-gaming mashup of Farmville, blue Belgian fairies, and raw sadism. Now is not the time for another rant on the evils of this particular compulsion-loop design motif, except to say that it's the worst thing to happen to gaming since E.T. on the Atari 2600. Except that E.T. didn't spawn any imitators. I guess that makes Farmville the worst thing to happen to gaming ever. Thanks again, Zynga!

In-app purchases are common features in freemium games, allowing you to boost your production or buy special items by paying actual cash as you play, thus blurring the line between imaginary game money and real mom-and-dad-worked-hard-for-this money. These purchases usually requires a password, but some people may be unaware of a basic reality of the app store model: your password remains active for 15 minutes after you type it in.

Thus, angry parents are reporting that their tots are racking up huge bills buying useless items in rotten games. One dad even claims his child was able to blow $140 on Smurfberries without having entered the password at all. As the dad observes (quite correctly): "They make it a ridiculously difficult game to play, and you can skip all the difficult parts by spending money. I believe that they know exactly what's going on."

Exactly. It's one of the things that make these games so pernicious. They're terrible game design, they feed and promote the worst consumerist habits in our modern culture, and they are created with bad intent.

Apple has been responsive to these complaints and is issuing refunds.

How to Turn Off In-App Purchases
First off, if your minor child is using your device, or has his or her own device, he should not know the password for the iTunes account. Period. There's no way a 10-year-old or even a 12-year-old is responsible enough to manage a raw cash IV drip that delivers hot and cold running media at the touch of a button. No way, no how, just stop it. It takes impulse buying to a level we never faced as children, and for which we have not prepared them. I was a reckless jerk when I got my own checkbook my first year in college. I can't imagine the temptations of instant, painless financial transactions that delivered gratification in seconds when I was in junior high. It's like digital crack. Just cut it out.

Second, you can turn off in-app purchases by going to Settings / General / Restrictions. Click the "Enable Restrictions" button. Scroll down to "Allowed Content" and turn "In-App Purchases" to "Off." While you're there, go ahead and set the content restrictions as well.


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