An investigation examining 400 apps conducted by Develop shows that there is a lack of consistency in the way in-game purchases are presented on digital stores. The investigation follows the UK government agency the Office of Fair Trading’s recent announcement that it would investigate in-app purchases in children’s games. While Develop says that Apple’s digital store fared best in its study, it also found that only 29 percent of the top 200 highest grossing paid and free in-app purchase games on the iOS App Store mentioned that they contained in-app purchases. Even fewer apps explained how to disable them. Since March Apple has made some efforts to include information on apps that contain in-app purchases, but those warnings won't appear on an iOS device that hasn't updated its operating system software.
Google Play and Windows Phone app stores do not list warnings at all, Develop found. The stores also make no reference to in-app purchases in the descriptions of titles prior to download. Like Apple's App Store, only 27 percent of free games on Google Play in the top 200 displayed warnings. Develop singled out the Gameloft-published Ice Age Village as one of the worst offenders in terms of what it tells consumers. The iOS version of the game offers a clear warning that the game features in-app purchases, and how to disable them, but the Google Play and Windows Phone Store versions contain different descriptions, that do not mention IAPs at all.
"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," wrote Develop in an article presenting its findings.
The website said that 29 percent of the apps it examined warned about in-app purchases, while 71 percent offered no such warning or disclaimer. Apps on Google Play offered similar results, with 27 percent offering a disclaimer about in-app purchases, and 74 percent offering no such information. Develop also noted that 55 percent of the 200 apps it examined featured micro-transactions of £69.99 or more.
Of those "pay now, pay later apps," Gameloft's Order & Chaos Online had the most expensive in-app purchase with its "Chamber Full of Coins" for £139.99. Other games highlighted in this category included The Amazing Spider-man, FIFA 13, Temple Run Oz, Tetris, and 8 Ball Pool.
Ultimately Develop's analysis of these apps shows that some App Stores are not responding to the OFT's investigation. That could come back to haunt them later on when it starts to offer recommendations to regulate how apps are described and what is required of both app makers and store owners to keep children from having an easy time of spending their parents' money on in-game extras. Both Google and Microsoft seem to be leagues behind Apple in implementing a solution that will satisfy government regulators. Hopefully that will change.
You can read the entire report here.