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Tap Pet Hotel needs some careful handling to ensure kids don't rack up large credit card bills. The best solution all round is to play it with them.
Many of us have become used to buying things online for our families. Whether this is the weekly shopping, electronics or birthday presents we know what to expect when purchasing from a website.
A newer innovation is purchasing games and software for our handheld games consoles and mobile phones directly on the device -- the iPhone, iPad, Android phones, 3DS or PSP for example. This lets you buy new games via a Wi-Fi Internet connection without even being connected to a computer.
The purchasing process on each device can be quite different. Firstly, whereas on the traditional gaming devices like the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PSP or 3DS you are asked to enter a password or credit card details for each transaction, on Smartphones a single log-in can be enough to grant multiple purchases within a particular timeframe.
Secondly, Smartphones are leading the way with in-game purchases, the ability to progress in a game by spending real money to buy in-game currency. This is another way to spend money on the device, and there has been a rise of games that are initially free but then encourage you to pay for items during play.
Avoiding multiple password requests in this way enables Smartphones to offer a smoother purchasing experience. On the iPhone and iPad (prior to their March update) for instance once you have entered your password you don't have to do it again for 15 minutes.
This doesn't sound like a problem until you come across free iPhone games like Pet Hotel or Smurf Village. These are free to download and require a password to do so. If you then hand the device to your son or daughter they can make in-game purchases for as much as £69.99, without a need for a password in the first 15 minutes.
These games do state that the game shop uses real money, but of course it is easy to miss this particularly if you are an excited young player. They can also ask you to login before you start playing, but again this opens up the danger of the grace period.
To their credit, Apple has provided an update to the iPhone operating system (the March 4.3 iOS update) that adds an extra password request for in-app purchases (although not for general purchases). This greatly reduces the risk of children generating alarming bills on their parents phone, but it does require that you update your device -- something that users can be dissuaded from doing as it can take in the region of 20 minutes.
In addition to the update, there are also a range of other things you can do to alleviate the problem. Probably the best advice though is to play games with your children rather than let them play on their own. It means they will get more out of the experience, and you'll understand what they are getting so excited about.
Where your children are likely to play these games unsupervised, you can avoid the problem as follows:
To update the operating system on your device:
Create a separate account on the device for your children that isn't linked to your credit card:
If you need credit on this account use an iTunes gift card or setup an iTunes allowance. You can then log into this account before your children use the iPhone:
Turn off in-app purchases for all users of the iPhone:
You have now disabled In-app purchases. Reverse this process to enable it should you require it in the future.
You can avoid the 15 minute password period by logging out of iTunes after making a purchase:
You will now be prompted to login next time you make a purchase.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: