An MCV investigation examining hundreds of apps has revealed a lack of consistency in the way in-game purchases are presented on digital stores.
Some developers even claim their games are ‘completely free', despite later asking players to stump up for power ups or tokens priced as high as 69.99.
Following the Office of Fair Trading's recent announcement it will investigate in-app purchases in children's games, we surveyed the top 400 grossing titles on the App Store and Google Play.
The OFT says that it has concerns about misleading, commercially aggressive or otherwise unfair practices.
Apple's digital store fared best in our study. But from an analysis of the top 200 highest grossing paid and free in-app purchase games on the iOS App Store, only 29 per cent of them mentioned that they contained in-app purchases. Even fewer noted how to disable them.
Only a handful of titles warned you that in-app purchases were incoming.
Since March, Apple has made efforts to point out if a game has in-app purchases, although warnings will not appear if a device's operating system isn't updated.
Google Play and Windows Phone app stores create larger concerns. They do not list such warnings, and make zero reference to in-app purchases in the descriptions of titles prior to download, unless developers have done so themselves.
Similar to the App Store, only 27 per cent of free games on Google Play in the top 200 highest grossing displayed warnings.
In fact, Gameloft-published Ice Age Village is one of the worst offenders in terms of what it tells consumers. The iOS version clearly states a warning that the game features in-app purchases, and how to them off. The Google Play and Windows Phone Store versions contain different descriptions, notably omitting mention of IAPs.
But Gameloft is not the only one to suffer from inconsistent presentation across rival app stores.
Developers as a whole appear to be confused on how to tackle IAP warnings. While many use a standard warning statement, others ignore this completely.
Long-standing free-to-play consumers and those well versed in the industry will know all to well about how the business model works, but the casual consumer will be unaware of what awaits them.
Some developers have recently suggested that the industry should ‘self regulate', and claim they should be trusted to do so. But with no clear consensus for an industry-wide standard, let alone a store standard, few app publishers have a clear track record.
DECLARING IN-APP PURCHASES
We tallied up whether or not developers and publishers disclosed that their apps included IAPs in their app store descriptions, regardless of the platform holder's warnings. 174 games from the top 200 in the highest grossing rankings on the App Store were investigated, and another 157 on Google Play.
iOS App Store: How many app descriptions warned about IAPs?
29% warned about in-app purchases
71% did not warn about in-app purchases
Google Play: How many apps warned about IAPs?
27% warned about in-app purchases
73% did not warn about in-app purchases
PAY NOW... PAY LATER
While some apps play on the terms ‘free' and ‘free-to-play', a number of paid apps also include IAPs as high as 139.99, for items described as ‘a chamber full of coins'. At least 55 per cent of the Top 200 games included in our investigation – omitting foreign apps and games excluding IAPs – featured microtransactions of 69.99 or more. Below we list some of the most popular games that are paid-for, and which also include premium in-app purchases.
Order & Chaos Online
Highest priced IAP: 139.99 for a Chamber Full of Coins
Highest priced IAP: 69.99 for 10,000 FIFA points
8 Ball Pool
Highest priced IAP: 69.99 for 125,000 Coins
The Amazing Spider-man
Highest priced IAP: 69.99 for a Skill Point Factory
Temple Run Oz
Highest priced IAP: 69.99 for a City of Coins
Price: 0.69 in iPhone / 1.99 on iPad
Highest priced IAP: 69.99 for 200,000 Coins