Top ‘free’ mobile games aimed at children as young as 3 years old are charging up to £300 per purchase, according to a new study from comparemymobile.com.
With more than three quarters (81%) of children with smartphones having at least one game installed on them, the mobile comparison service conducted a study of 45 top grossing and most popular ‘free’ mobile games with minimum PEGI age ratings of 16 years old and under, to uncover the true cost of ‘free to play’ gaming.
According to the study, which featured household franchises such as Marvel, Star Wars, Looney Tunes, Toy Story, The Sims and WWE, free to play mobile games charged anywhere between £0.50 and £300 per in game item.
‘Free to play’ games with most expensive in-app purchases
|Game Title||Publisher||Downloads||Cheapest in App Purchase||Most expensive in App Purchase||PEGI Age Rating|
|Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes||Electronic Arts||10,000,000||0.99||£300||12|
|Coin Master||Moon Active||50,000,000||£0.79||£299.99||12|
|Looney Tunes World of Mayhem||Scopley||10,000,000||0.89||299.99||3|
The players spending £1000’s on ‘free’ games
Comparemymobile.co.uk polled Reddit users in communities for some of the most popular games on the list. Of the 150 Redditors who responded, the study found:
- Nearly all players (97%) of free to play games had made in game purchase with real money, with 63% saying they felt the game constantly pushed them to spend.
- Nearly a quarter (23%) said they had spent between $500 – $1000 on the game.
- More than a quarter (27%) have spent more than $1000 on their free to play game.
- Some players said they had spent as much as $100,000 on a ‘free’ game over time.
- On average (81%), people play free to play games for more than 10 hours per week.
- More than half (63%) said they felt their game was addictive, with 74% saying the game contained loot boxes which felt like gambling.
- Half (53%) said they felt the game appeals to people under 18 years of age.
- Nearly three quarters (57%) said they felt the games were impossible to progress in without spending real life money.
Loot boxes with astronomically low odds
In addition to addictive game play, almost three quarters (74%) of players said they felt their game contained gambling elements in the form of ‘loot box’ style mechanics.
Loot boxes are a mechanic that controls the rate in which players can unlock new items by making it more difficult for players to unlock the items they need.
In the study the comparison service found loot box odds (or pull rates) were astronomically low. This means, players can spend hundreds without ever unlocking the item.
For example, in one mobile game (PEGI age rating of 12) the cost to open a loot box was £1.99 per time. However, that £1.99 only gave the player a 1.49% chance at unlocking the featured item, meaning despite paying the money – they would likely not receive the item they needed.
Also, in some cases (like in our example) there was no other way of unlocking the item directly, meaning the only way players could access the game content and progress would be to sink money into loot boxes or spend money elsewhere within the game to boost their chances. As a result, nearly all (78%) of the players in our study said the games require players to pay money to progress or complete it, despite being marketed as a free game.
According to an additional survey of 2,000 parents conducted by comparemymobile.co.uk more than three quarters (81%) said their children have games on their devices, with two fifths (40%) saying their child’s screen time had dramatically increased during lockdown.
More than half (62%) parents surveyed said they had been asked to spend real money on a free game by their child or had done so as a birthday or Christmas present (average of £9). However, one in 10 (10%) said that they child had made an in-game purchase without their knowledge.
Rob Baillie from comparemymobile.co.uk said;
“There’s a reason why mobile games are such big business and our research raises some concerns around these games which are often aimed at children.
“From speaking with players we have found that while many of the games feel free in the initial period, as players sink more time into the game it becomes significantly harder to progress, ultimately leading to them spending significant amount of money.
“Aside from the sheer volume of money players were spending, what was most concerning was the use of loot box mechanics in games, often with horrendous odds as low as 1.49%. Stories of players spending more than they could afford or quitting the game only to come back to it shows there are serious problems that need to be addressed.
“With some of these games aimed at children as young as three year’s old, there is a real danger of some of these games turning children’s devices into brightly coloured slot machines, normalising gambling habits.
“Admittedly, not all free games follow this route, so our advice to parents is to look at the cost of ‘in-app purchases’ which are displayed in the Play or App Store before you download the game, and consider that if a game is charging as much as £300 per purchase why it is doing so, and if it is really suitable for your child.
In some cases, there may even be similar games that have an up-front cost to download but contain no purchases or adds. While were used to things being free on our phones, paying a small up-front fee, may work out significantly cheaper in the long run”
“For adult players, if you find you are spending more money than you are comfortable with or can afford, there are a range of online resources to help with gambling addictions such as the NHS and Gamecare who can help.”
Comparemymobile.com top tips for parents:
- Always trial games before allowing your children to play them, regardless of the game’s age rating.
- Be sure to carefully check the game’s in-app store and be aware of how much it sells items for.
- Disable easy purchasing options in your Play Store or App Store settings (such as saved credit cards or mobile billing) to prevent unauthorised purchases.
- Monitor screen time and child behaviour during and after playing free to play games as many boast deliberately addictive gameplay designed to frustrate players into paying.
- If a game features ‘loot boxes’ check the percentage rate before making any purchase. In some cases, the odds to unlock featured items can be as low as 1%.
For more information and to read the full study, please visit the comparemymobile.com website
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