Mobile games for kids are unethical

Games for kids are supposed to do one of two things: Keep them occupied or teach them something.

That is not the case when it comes to the mobile marketplace, at least not for Android. Google Play is filled with games marketed to kids that requires either understanding of timers and the patience to put the phone down for the majority of the day or a big wallet. Kids generally have neither of those, which brings me to one conclusion: they are simply made to make money off kids.

Most kids don’t have any concept of money, so when they see that they can skip those long timers and get instant play out of the game for $2.99, they don’t understand that that equals their dinner. Every click in one of those games is a potential cost for the parents.

Sure, you could argue that a parent shouldn’t hand their kids the phone if the credit card is activated, but I would instead argue that the publisher shouldn’t publish a game aimed towards kids that require patience or money.

What does the law say?

In the UK, restrictions exist on ads that ‘might result in harm to children physically, mentally or morally’ and on ads employing methods that ‘take advantage of the natural credulity and sense of loyalty of children’. Nor may advertisements ‘exhort children to purchase or to ask their parents or others to make enquiries or purchases’. (Source)

The law differs between countries, ranging from the Swedish strict laws about never aim advertising to children under the age of 12 to France’s views that advertising is a natural part of preparing the kids for future consumerism. Most countries have some form of laws against requiring money from young children though. There’s also laws that regulate HOW the ads are shown.

For example, Greece has a ban on all advertising to children that promotes violence, such as military toys. They also have a ban on all advertising of children’s toys between 7am and 10pm. In the UK, you are not allowed to advertise something that plays to the children’s gullibility or sense of loyalty, neither are you allowed to require them to pay or ask their parents to pay for something in the advertising material.

Mobile Market is different

A quick browse of the Google Play Marketplace shows that very few publishers adhere to these rules and regulations. Big Blue Bubble publishes the popular kids game My Singing Monsters, a game where you “breed” monsters to make different sounds. Together they form a single, continuous song with each monster being a single instrument. The monsters generate “coins” that you can use to by some things. Diamonds are purchased with real money and is used for the in-game store. The game is clearly aimed towards children and here’s some of the things you can read in the review section:

Be aware this game is too slow to keep your kids busy for long without spending lots of money the costs of everything have doubled recently forcing you to buy diamonds to make anything.

I dont think it’s fair that when u teleport the monsters to Shugabush island u to start over n feed the monsters back to level 15.

Everything takes too long! (8h? Really?? And then ANOTHER 8h for the monster to be ready??? Wtf) And its too hard and too slow to get diamonds. So you either should get more diamonds or sell stuff with coins.

Too much advertising! I keep the game running in the background and every time I go into it I am forced to watch a 30 second ad!

Great concept and well thought out. However, you quickly become annoyed at the level of advertising thrown at you. You will soon spend more time watching trailers for numerous other games, films etc, than you will actually playing “My Singing Monsters”.

Paying does not remove the one thing that annoys me the most: The unskippable video ads. Where other games use the unskippable video ads to give you bonuses, such as coins or diamonds or skipping a timer, this game just throws them at you.

All these reviews are from the UK and shows that the game contains heavy amounts of advertising, require regular progress resets and makes the game virtually unplayable without the use of real money. Does this sound suitable for 6-10 year olds?

Bubadu pulishes the game Doctor Kids, a game aimed at younger kids about medical personnel at a hospital. Today it is free, but it started out as a £2 purchase. The game offers an in-game store, for which you buy “stars” with real money. This is what reviewers say:

Accidental purchase for removing ads and won’t let me cancel it

My daughter is three and all these ads keep coming up she knows nothing better but to click them and it has cost me money quite a few times because she clicked “install” but so you really think that a child understand what the ads are and that they cost money???

My 3 year old liked it at first but he needed a lot of help to play between the pop ups and the difficulty level.

So fun but you have to spend stars to unlock doors

4yr old loves this game It is the only doctor app that allows him to imagine he is a doctor. The checkups are easy enough for him to complete on his own, yet not boring to him. Secretly, I enjoy paying for the look on his face.

Too many ads

Again, we have a game aimed to kids, this time even younger kids and even has kids in the title. Yet it is filled with advertising and paywalls and fails to keep the kids’ attention for long without pulling out the wallet.

I tried both games to see what kind of advertising was offered. It is basically the same as all games, including war games and casinos and bingo. There was no regard for the target group of the “game”. Both the methods used to get people to use the in-game store and the advertising is in direct violation of both EU and domestic laws here in the UK, as well as several other countries.

I understand that very few publishers want to pay the £50 it costs for a licence to publish on Google Play without getting anything in return, but what I don’t understand is why Google allows so many publishers to aim their games to young children. If you don’t want to make an educational game or a game that keeps kids occupied out of the pureness of your heart, maybe you shouldn’t aim your games to young children.

Of course, companies will keep doing this, because quite frankly, it works. Parents download them, kids play them and the companies get paid. As long as that cycle remains unbroken, the Google Play Marketplace will remain broken and on the verge of being illegal.

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