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 addicted to the Township game over the Christmas break, racking up around 800 charges in a matter of months.
“She was spending between $200 and $250 a day on some days. In total, it was just under $5,000 – $4,986.
Marion said her daughter was confused about what she was buying and that she was using real money. He added that he thought the game also played into the vulnerability and isolation she felt at the time.
“She was going through some social anxiety,” he said. “Some medications she was taking to deal with it were also being adjusted.
“She thought it was just credits piling up and the dollars piling up, it wasn’t hitting her credit card.”
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Cantonwhich is described as a mix of city life and farming, is free to download, but some virtual in-game items can also be purchased with real money.
Tom Keenan, a professor and tech expert at the University of Calgary, told Global News that these games are advertised as free, but actually make a lot of money.
“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 attractive for you to buy things.”
He also highlighted the sense of community they can provide, which is appealing during isolation.
“Every time you log in, you’re encouraged to buy something and share it with your friends,” Keenan said. “They try to put you in an online community of people who you give and receive gifts from, and that can be very, very addicting.
“Algorithms are very powerful, so pretty much everyone falls in love with them at some point.”
Keenan encouraged parents to install parental controls to know what their kids are playing and where they get money to play.
As 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, additional costs and their addictiveness.
“I think the game puts in prompts to say that when you hit a certain peak, they start prompting you to buy more,” he said. “Then as you buy more, you become a very lucrative customer.”
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Marion held out her hand Canton Playrix developer for help resolving the charges, but said he hasn’t heard back. Global News did the same, but also got no response.
Marion also contacted Apple for a refund, but said her appeals had been rejected – twice.
How to control/limit expenses
On Apple’s support page, the company has several ways to limit purchases made on any of its apps and devices.
- Passwords : Customers can choose whether they want to enter passwords when purchasing items as well as how often they want those passwords entered.
- Built-in tools and resources: Family Sharing, Purchase Request, and Parental Controls can help customers protect themselves and their families from unauthorized use and spending.
- Invoices by e-mail: All App Store customers receive an invoice/receipt via email for each in-app purchase.
The company also points out that it has a simple charge dispute process, although Marion said it doesn’t work for him.
He contacted Global News and got a response within days.
“They (Apple) ended up issuing a full refund.”
But Marion said what’s more important than the money refunded is that the tech giant has recognized that certain situations may deserve another look and a different approach. He added that it is important to consider vulnerable people in a cycle of addiction and how to protect them.
It’s a role he said companies and parents need to play together when it comes to online video games.
“We (parents) need to be more aware of where we are putting the ability to spend money, 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 those cycles of addiction, you have to find ways to get out of them.”
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