30/07/2013 10:47 BST | Updated 28/09/2013 06:12 BST

In App Purchases...Like Stealing Candy From a Baby... Oh Wait...


It's okay - you don't have to pretend, I play silly games on my iPhone all the time too. Just like you, I'm more likely to download them if they are free. We should only pay for quality and quality is sorely lacking in many games today. Instead many games resort to timers and constant tapping as a substitute for innovative game-play.

The free but with a pay-for-premium (freemium) model works by giving away an app and then making money from the user through mobile advertising and in-app purchases (IAP).

Mobile advertising is fine in my book. There is a familiar phrase "if you aren't paying for it, you are the product." Being the "product" so to speak has little effect on the consumer experience - a game is good or bad on its own merit. In fact ad support has led to some excellent games.

There is, however, an issue with mobile advertising taking advantage of children's immaturity. This is not new. Before online games, advertising was location specific and therefore easier to handle - if you don't want your kid to want toys, don't take them to the toy shop - whereas now it is more pervasive.

Mobile devices create a personal environment which is then used to take advantage of children. There have been countless scandals with thousands of pounds spent on IAPs. Who buys £69 worth of smurfberries? That is more expensive than a Lego box set which at least has reuse value! Who do companies think pays for IAP - sensible adults, or children?

I would hope that sensible people would not spend that much money on IAP, though many probably do and with all the news about £4,000 payments, I can't help but wonder how many a child's smaller payments have gone unnoticed in the milieu of modern micro-purchases.

Why do people spend money in these games? If they are as bad as I claim surely no one would. Let's look at how these games work. They are essentially designed to get you to spend money, running on timers which refill fast enough to stop you giving up but slow enough that you want to buy more speed. Most of them claim that it is possible to progress in the game for free - but this is at a frustrating pace.

What is the point of all these timers? It is a psychological war against your patience. When I played these games I felt my patience being slowly eroded, imagine what it is like for a child has not had time to build a well of patience.

If you lack patience then the only way to enjoy progression in these games is to spend money, otherwise you progress slowly and just get frustrated. If a child is playing they will want to go faster and to do this they will buy IAP.

We are left with a plethora of games which do not broaden the imagination, do not require skills or reflexes but instead simply make progress difficult by means of timers which lead to children spending money on IAP. Where is the educational benefit? Older computer games like Zelda teach puzzle solving skills and have an imaginative back-story which can inspire.

What does tapping at a clock until you get frustrated enough to buy some IAP teach? Nothing. The mobile ecosystem is flooded with a multitude of hollow platforms, each tailored to attract a different customer group, which are on the surface free but are riddled with hidden costs.

There are well made, more expensive but higher quality games available. If we take as an example Final Fantasy Tactics War of the Lions, this game costs £10.99 - it is rare for games to cost this much - but for that price you get a game with hours of content, that you progress through without waiting for timers, and the only frustration comes from your bad decisions. No IAP, no advertising, just the game.

Compare this to your standard level of IAP, which costs £2.99 for something that a kid could burn through in minutes, and we have a discrepancy in cost. We have a few hours worth (£10.99 worth) of IAP fuelled tapping, versus one whole game. The costs hardly seem to equate do they?

It is hard to convince people to pay upfront for a games but a better model is the lite version, if the first thirty minutes of game-play is free then people can be convinced to buy the full game. If you make a decent quality game then you shouldn't be afraid to do this.

Sadly, the mobile phone market is too flooded with cheap timer based games which are designed to cause frustration in children and lead to IAPs. Ultimately the responsibility for controlling IAP must fall on the parents as it is their responsibility to control their PIN and protect their children from mind numbing tap-attack games.

If you want to use a game as a nanny, pick something to challenge and inspire. Buy an old Nintendo 64 and sit them down with Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. They might get a little frustrated trying to find the internet cable slot before realising that there isn't one - and they couldn't spend money if they tried.