An Alberta father is warning others after he was on the hook for thousands of dollars when his daughter became addicted to an online video game.
Okotoks’ Jerry Marion told Global News his 18-year-old daughter got hooked on the Township game over the Christmas break and racked up about 800 charges in a matter of months.
“Some days she was spending $200 to $250 a day. In total it was just under $5,000 – $4,986.”
Marion said his daughter was confused about what she was buying and that she was using real money. He added he believes the game also contributed to the vulnerability and isolation she was experiencing at the time.
“She had some social anxiety,” he said. “Some of the medications she was taking to cope have also been adjusted.
“She figured it was just credit being accumulated, and when the dollars shot up, it didn’t go to her credit card.”
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CommunityDescribed as a mixture of city life and farming, it is free to download, but some virtual in-game items can also be purchased for real money.
University of Calgary professor and tech expert Tom Keenan told Global News that although these games are advertised as free, they are actually big money makers.
“These games are a business, and if they’re giving them away for free, they have to make their money somehow,” he said. “So they make it extremely tempting to buy things.”
He also pointed to the sense of community they can provide, which is attractive during isolation.
“Every time you log in, you’re encouraged to buy something and share it with your friends,” Keenan said. “They’re trying to put you in an online community of people you give gifts to and receive gifts from, and that can be very, very addictive.
“The algorithms are so powerful that almost everyone falls for them at some point.”
Keenan encouraged parents to install parental controls, know what their kids are playing, and know where they get the money to play.
For adults, he advised players to set a limit and stick to it. However, he also added that game makers should be more transparent about their games, the additional costs, and their addictive nature.
“I think the game puts in prompts to say that when you reach a certain peak, it will prompt you to buy more,” he said. “Then if you buy more, you become a very lucrative customer.”
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Marion got in touch Community Developer Playrix for help solving the allegations, but said it has not received a response. Global News did the same but received no response either.
Marion also contacted Apple for a refund but said his appeals were denied – twice.
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How to control/limit expenses
On Apple’s support page, the company has several ways to restrict purchases made on its apps and devices.
- Passwords: Customers can choose whether they want to enter passwords when purchasing items and how often they want to enter those passwords.
- Built-in tools and resources: Family Sharing, Ask to Buy, and Parental Controls can help customers protect themselves and their families from unauthorized use and spending.
- Email invoices: All App Store customers will receive an email invoice/receipt for each completed in-app purchase.
The company also notes that it has a simple dispute resolution process, although it was one that Marion said didn’t work for him.
He contacted Global News and received a response within days.
“They (Apple) ended up issuing a full refund.”
But Marion said what’s more important than the money back is that the tech giant acknowledged there are certain situations that might merit a different look and approach. He added it’s important to consider and protect vulnerable people in an addiction cycle.
It’s a role that businesses and parents must play together when it comes to online video games.
“We (parents) need to be more conscious of where we are setting up the opportunity to spend, and I think from my daughter’s perspective, it was a bit confusing for her,” Marion said. “But I think she really understands now that when you go through these cycles of addiction, you have to find ways to get out of them.”
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