I’m more than a bit disappointed in the state of in-app purchasing on Android. It has nothing to do with it working but more to do with the people implementing it and the control we, the users, have over it. The system works but has flaws.

Back Story

My daughter, Alex’ [9], was here for summer [sucks to not be w/ her always but that’s another story] and seeing as I have this slab of Android tablet sweetness on my desktop, mostly idle, she wanted to play with it. Of course she played all of the games on my XOOM but soon found a desire for something else so to the Market she went.

In the Market she found Fashion Story by TeamLava. It is a free download but, being the responsible princess she is, she still asks me if she can install it. Of course I say yes, after seeing “FREE” and skimming the description, content rating, etc.

Then came the semi-drama.

The Purchase

Alex was having a good ol’ time playing the game. I was at my laptop working [in the office; away from her] and I heard the Mail “ding” alerting me to new email so I jumped there to see it.

Wait…what? Google Checkout? But I didn’t buy anything.

Of course I open it immediately only to see a $99 in-app purchase for 580 gems. I jump from the computer, go to the living room, and question Alex. She was startled because she had no idea it was real money. She thought it was game money she was spending.

The Refund

My very next step was to get a refund. Whoa…can’t cancel an in-app purchase?!?!?!??!? Android let’s you cancel app purchases and I’ve even had a Google Book refunded [meant to purchase on from Kindle app; another story indeed, lol] so I couldn’t believe what I was reading. As a dev who enjoys cashing checks, I get it. If you buy something in-app then cancel the purchase, the app has to be aware and remove the item. That leaves holes to circumvent the system by “smart” peeps. So…I get it but I wanted my money back.

Even though I couldn’t just cancel the order, Google Checkout did let me contact the seller so I sent the following email to TeamLava.

Here is the text of the refund request:

My daughter was playing your Fashion game and thought she was buying $99 of virtual money. Please cancel this order. BTW, $99 is entirely too much for an in-app purchase. Console games don’t even cost that much! Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Long story short[er]…TeamLava was gracious enough to refund the money:

TeamLava Support Sunshine, Jul-27 13:48 (PDT):

Hi John-b9i1vs0v9qt,

We have reversed your transactions and removed the Gems from your accounts.

Please be aware that we are doing this as a one time exception and should this happen again, we will not be able to reverse the transactions. Please be more careful in the future. Thank you.

Yours,
TeamLava Support Sunshine

I uninstalled the app immediately and let them know in a follow-up, and final, email. Again…I get it and am appreciative of their support [especially since they didn’t have to refund it] but I still take issue with the in-app purchase itself as well as the process.

The Issue

$99!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Do I really need to continue here? I mean come on! $99 for 580 gems? That is insanity seeing as I could have bought 3 or 4 Wii games for less than $99 or 100 people the Captain America game, which is pretty cool btw. No one can tell me how much to charge for my skills/work/products so I won’t do the same for TeamLava but I can absolutely give my opinion as a short-term customer: it’s ludicrous!

Aside from the ludicrous price, my other issue is the application description mentioned nothing about in-app purchases:

Welcome to Fashion Story, the stylish new game in TeamLava’s hit “Story” series!

Welcome to Fashion Story™, the stylish new game in TeamLava’s hit virtual world “Story” series! Fashion-hungry consumers are on the sidewalk waiting for the doors to your hot new clothing boutique to open. Choose and stock the very latest fashions and designs, then layout the store and changing rooms before preparing for the shopping rush.

– Unlock trendy designer clothes lines and innovative stylish accessories, placing them in your store to draw trendsetting customers in from far and wide.
– Showcase your style and creativity to design the layout and decor for a stunning fashion boutique.
– Visit your friends’ boutiques and “like” items in their stores to give them a free gift.
– FREE updates with new clothing, accessories, and boutique decorations every week!
– It’s FREE!

Aside from TeamLava not informing their users of in-app purchases being included they also do not explicitly state in the description the game is for 14+, as they informed me in the email thread. What adult reads terms/agreements let alone a 9 year old so in-app age requirements are a fail, IMHO.

In fact, the app has a content rating of Everyone. This lead me to believe my 9 year old daughter will be fine playing it.

Suggestion

On iOS you have to type your password for every single purchase you make unless you typed it within a set amount of time recently. I loathe typing my password every time on iOS but I NEVER had an issue where an app was purchased inadvertently. I left iOS before in-app purchasing came but I know the flow is the same as purchasing an app, book, or music:

Once you tap Buy, you’ll be required to enter your iTunes Store account password.

My point of referencing iOS is to say I think it is the other end of the spectrum from Android. iOS makes you type your password, essentially making you request the rope to hang yourself. Android has purchasing open and free, giving you or anyone holding your device the rope to hang yourself. We need a healthy medium. For my use, I love the Android way because I’m responsible with my purchases.

Enter Parental Control Mode. I’d LOVE to be able to click my clock [bottom right on Honeycomb], select Settings->Parental Controls, and toggle it On. Better yet, make it a first class setting of the menu like toggling Airplane mode or Auto-rotate screen. Once it is on, a password is required for purchases. This can also be expanded to other other settings on the device [joining wi-fi, web browsing, etc].

What I do not want, as a solution for these issues, is different user accounts. I like the idea of different user accounts for other reasons [namely shared devices] but I don’t want to create an account for each family member then have to sign in/out to protect my tablet.

There are apps out there for parental control on Android but I don’t want another app or app+service running in the background monitoring my every move or blocking apps. I want OS-level integration here.

Until then…it is on our shoulders to monitor those with our devices to make sure they do not “accidentally” do something they shouldn’t have.

Google should also put in-app purchases as part of the install dialog in the “THIS APP HAS ACCESS TO…” section.

Hrmm…maybe I should stop blogging these ideas/requests and get patents. That’s how the tech world goes ’round now, right?