Publisher greed: Little girl amasses $1,400 iPhone bill playing ‘Smurf’s Village’

smurfs-village-ipad-game

Decking out your iPhone Smurf house may cost more than you thought. The Washington Post reports that an 8-year-old girl named Madison amassed a $1,400 bill from apple for decorating her home in Smurf’s Village, an iPhone and iPad game by Capcom. Though the game is targeted at young children, it lets players cheat their way toward faster rewards by using real money to purchase bountiful amounts of Smurfberries, a valuable currency within the game.

Much like FarmVille, players like Madison start Smurf’s Village with only a “single mushroom house and a lone plowed plot of land.” From there, players attempt to grow Smurfberries so they can afford enhancements to their home and village so they can grow even more Smurfberries and improve their village even more, and so on, and so on. Games like these are designed to be highly addictive. But is it right to market them explicitly to kids, who may not even be old enough to understand the concept of money?

publisher greed little girl amasses 1400 iphone bill playing smurfs village smurf appSmurfing is expensive

Though Smurf’s Village is aimed at children 4 years old and up, it baits them with in-game purchases that can cost almost $100. Only a password is required to buy Smurfberries, and once entered, users (kids) have 15 minutes to purchase as many items as they can before having to reenter any passwords (ask their parents).

Here are the top purchases in Smurf’s Village (via iTunes):

  1. $4.99 – 1 BUCKET OF SMURFBERRIES
  2. $9.99 – 2 BUSHEL OF SMURFBERRIES
  3. $24.99 – 3 BARREL OF SMURFBERRIES
  4. $4.99 – 4 BUCKET OF SMURFBERRIES
  5. $11.99 – 5 BUSHEL OF SMURFBERRIES
  6. $99.99 – 6 WAGON OF SMURFBERRIES
  7. $49.99 – 7 WHEELBARROW OF SMURFBERRIES
  8. $59.99- 8 WHEELBARROW OF SMURFBERRIES
  9. $29.99 – 9 BARREL OF SMURFBERRIES

While we’re already confused why someone paid  $4.99 for 1 bucket of Smurfberries while others received 4 buckets for said price, the list shows the ridiculously large amounts of money Capcom is charging children for in-game content. Even one mistake could cost a family $99. To add perspective, the smallest popular purchase, $4.99, is about the full price of a premium iPhone/Android game. Is it right to bait children with in-game purchases like these?

publisher greed little girl amasses 1400 iphone bill playing smurfs village smurfberry shop

Capcom knows about the problem. In December, the publisher added this warning to the iTunes description of the game. “PLEASE NOTE: Smurf Village is free to play, but charges real money for additional in-app content. You may lock out the ability to purchase in-app content by adjusting your device’s settings.” The warning did not come soon enough for Madison’s family. And is a small warning enough, when the entire game is monetized by milking users (children, in this case) of real cash?

Deceptively cheap

The Smurfs are not alone. Many other free-to-play games use this model of in-game purchases to subsidize their initial price of “free” on Apple’s App Store. The problem will soon spread. Last week, Google announced the addition of in-app transactions to its Android platform, allowing games like Smurf’s Village to pillage the wallets of Android users everywhere.

“Parents need to know that the promotion of games and the delivery mechanism for them are deceptively cheap,” said Jim Styer, president of Common Sense Media, a public advocacy group for online content for children. “But basically people are trying to make money off these apps, which is a huge problem, and only going to get bigger because mobile apps are the new platform for kids.”

The video game industry loves the idea of microtransactions and in-game purchases because publishers can charge less upfront and squeeze money out of customers by offering small rewards for small amounts of extra cash. In essence, these types of games trick people into spending a dollar here and there. Over time, these small transactions add up to big money for publishers. A couple years ago, it was common for mobile game and app publishers to charge recurring monthly fees of $2.99 to $4.99 for products that didn’t need or require long-term payment (they didn’t have subscription content). Like Smurf’s Village, these types of apps make the majority of their money from user confusion. Often, app buyers forget to cancel subscriptions, a process that is sometimes time consuming and difficult. Other times, they don’t realize they have a subscription to cancel.

Don’t be sly

Publishers are entitled to be paid for their works, but there is an ethical line they can cross. A game isn’t really a game if you have to buy your way to the top, and it isn’t fair to charge a young audience who may not even understand the value of a dollar. There are many games, especially for kids, that have currencies within them. Not all children will understand that what they are buying costs real money. Worse, parents often don’t realize the problem until it’s too late.

What can be done? Publishers could release an adults-only version of games like Smurf’s Village that includes these massive in-game charges or simply charge users $4.99 to $9.99 for the game upfront and get rid of the issue entirely. What do you think?

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Product Review

Galaxy Watch Active is the right size, no matter how big or small your wrist is

Launched among a massive array of other new products, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active could easily have been missed at Galaxy Unpacked 2019 -- which would be unfortunate. This is a sensibly designed, correctly sized smartwatch suitable for…
Home Theater

The best Dolby Atmos movies for your home theater sound as good as they look

If you've got your hands on some sweet Dolby Atmos gear, the next step is to find films that take advantage of it. These are our picks in several genres for the best Dolby Atmos movies currently available on Blu-ray and streaming services.
Smart Home

Amazon Echo Dot vs. Echo Dot Kids Edition: What’s the difference?

The Echo Dot Kids Edition combines a free year subscription to FreeTime Unlimited with a two-year, worry-free warranty. But is the Kids Edition really all that much different than the regular Echo Dot?
Mobile

What we like and what we don’t like about the Samsung Galaxy S10

Samsung’s Galaxy S10 takes the elegant design to new heights, boasts incredible screen and camera tech, and offers speedier connectivity, but we don’t like the price and a few other things. Here’s what we like and don’t like about…
Movies & TV

The best movies you’ll find on Hulu right now (February 2019)

From dramas to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Mobile

Samsung Galaxy S10 vs. Galaxy S9: How much better is Samsung’s new flagship?

You'd naturally expect the Samsung Galaxy S10 to be better than last year's S9, but just how do the two phones differ? We break down the specs and compare Samsung's flagships in various categories to pick a winner.
Mobile

Where to buy the Samsung Galaxy S10, S10 Plus, and S10e in the U.K.

The Samsung Galaxy S10, S10 Plus, and S10e have all been officially announced and can be pre-ordered right now, with deliveries expected on March 8. If you're in the U.K., this is where you need to go to buy one.
Mobile

Protect and style your Samsung Galaxy S10 with the best cases and covers

If you've splashed the cash for a shiny new Samsung Galaxy S10, then you'll want to take steps to protect your investment. With a metal frame and glass curves, the S10 needs some cover. Check out the best Samsung Galaxy S10 cases.
Mobile

You can now pre-order the Samsung Galaxy S10, S10 Plus, or S10e

The Samsung Galaxy S10 is one of the most-anticipated phones of the year, offering a new chipset, beautiful display, and more. Now that the phone has been announced you might be wondering where you can get it for yourself.
Mobile

Sony partnership with Light aims to take smartphone photography to new heights

Smartphone photography is in its ascendancy, and a new partnership between Light and Sony hopes to lift it to new heights through the development of multi-image sensor solutions for smartphones. We spoke to Light to find out more.
Mobile

Samsung Galaxy S10 vs. Google Pixel 3: Can Samsung beat the stock Android king?

The Samsung Galaxy S10 is here, offering modern specs, a beautifully high-resolution display, and an edge-to-edge design with a small cutout in the display for the front-facing camera. But can the phone take out the Google Pixel 3?
Deals

Protect your iPhone or iPad with the IPVanish VPN, on sale through February

One of our favorite virtual private networks for iPhones and iPads, IPVanish, is now offering a huge discount on its two-year subscription as part of its 7th-birthday promotion. Read on to find out more about how this VPN works and how you…
Mobile

Verizon is launching real standards-based 5G in 30 cities in 2019

Verizon is in the midst of a massive 5G rollout. In addition to fixed 5G service, it will also begin deploying mobile 5G in the coming months. Here's everything you need to know about Verizon's 5G network and when it will be in your town.
Mobile

Samsung Galaxy S10e vs. OnePlus 6T: Can the Flagship Killer survive?

The Samsung Galaxy S10e is the new affordable flagship on the block, but at $750, it's $200 more than the OnePlus 6T. Does the Flagship Killer stand a chance against the new generation of flagship devices? Let's take a closer look.