Inside the business of children's digital media

UK parents get a grip on kids’ in-app spending


People who claim that the topic of kids and in-app purchases isn’t permeating the mobile space are likely trying to sell you something.

In-game spending among kids has reached somewhat of an apex this year, with the UK Office of Fair Trading currently investigating the area and Apple issuing strict developer guidelines – and in some cases refunds – following parental outrage over lengthy phone bills. But a new study suggests the issue could be overblown in the UK, or at least under control, as research agency Dubit has found that only 2% of British kids are making purchases without their parent’s permission.

Leeds, England-based Dubit, which on top of market research also specializes in developing interactive content for clients like PBS Kids and Cartoon Network, has found that a surprisingly low number (17%) of children aged six to 12 are allowed by their parents to make in-app purchases, and when they do make purchases they rarely exceed US$3.20. That’s certainly less than the US$6,000 one eight-year-old in Somerset, England racked up on his iPad this past summer.

“Of course, stories of children emptying their parent’s accounts will always make the news but what this has done is not only make parents more aware of the problem but also helped the likes of Apple improve security and the OFT to investigate the market,” says Paul Rayment, head of communications at Dubit.

Nearly half of children who are allowed to make such purchases know their parents’ app store account details and none of the 500 kids surveyed, 71% of whom said they played mobile games, have ever spent more than US$16 on a single purchase. The data shows that such permissions increase as kids get older, as the older the child the more likely they are to conduct an in-app purchase.

More than half (54%) of children who make purchases say one of their favorite thing to buy in-game is new levels, like in Candy Crush Saga, while 45% like to purchase cosmetic items, like clothing or furniture, to enhance their online identity – and these items are just as popular with boys as they are with girls. A quarter of respondents chose to pay to speed-up in-game actions such as making crops grow.

The research coincides with a steady domination of freemium apps in the marketplace.  Just look at Candy Crush Saga with its reported daily revenues of US$600,000.

“Generally, parents are looking for free games first and believe that in-app purchasing isn’t something to worry about. This is either because their child doesn’t have their account details, or if they do they know not to spend without permission,” Rayment says.

“If you look at the current top-50 top grossing apps on Apple’s [UK] App Store and discount those that are clearly not aimed at children (newspapers, bingo games etc.), only three are paid for at the point of download (Angry Birds Star Wars 2, Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom and Infinity Blade 3). Of those three, only Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom doesn’t feature in-app payments.”

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