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Oz consumer watchdog makes beeline for Smurf game

‘Shonky Award’ for in-game price sting

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

It’s hard for the games business to get a look-in when the competition includes cosmetic-only car roof rails, an insurance industry that redefines “flood” to dodge claims, and snake-oil slimming products. However, Beeline Interactive has managed a placing in Choice’s annual Shonky Awards.

Its now-notorious Smurfs’ Village game was named-and-shamed by the consumer watchdog for the way parents were stung with unexpected bills flowing from the game’s “freemium” model (don’t you love the way that marketing departments come up with odious new words to describe even more odious business practices?).

Children playing the free game are encouraged to improve their progress by the in-game purchase of “smurfberries” – something that can soak up $100 with a couple of clicks.

As Choice put it, while the game runs a disclaimer about the price of smurfberries, “kids ignore it, parents are oblivious to it, and [the] distinction between requests for real versus game money later in the game isn’t always clear to the kids the game is marketed to”.

Shonky it may be, but it’s at least fair to observe that In-App Purchases – IAP to their friends – have been a huge hit all over the AppStore world. In this commentary, the Guardian notes that premium IAP offerings are also popular in Crowdstar’s Top Girl and Storm8’s World War.

Others have criticized Apple as the source of the problem; although it was supposed to plug a loophole that left a 15-minute delay between the “buy” button and the password prompt, big bills are still happening.

The other highlights of the Shonky Awards were a Chinese car with a sticker warning that its roof rails are cosmetic only and can’t actually carry anything; the SensaSlim range of weight-loss products, whose owners sued a Choice consumer representative for defamation when he lodged a complaint about the products with Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration; bling-encrused baby dummies that can still be bought after being banned for presenting a choking hazard; along dodgy “shapewear”, a “green electricity” product that didn’t work, and a quail supplier that claimed its little birds could cure everything from diabetes to tuberculosis. ®

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