The Smurfs' Village, a game for the iPhone and other iOS devices, released a month ago quickly became the highest-grossing application in the iTunes store. Yet it's free to download. So, what's the secret? "Selling in-game items that you purchase with real-life money."
Kelly Rummelhart of Gridley, Calif., has said "Her 4-year-old son was using her iPad to play the game and racked up $66.88 in charges on her credit card without knowing what he was doing."
"Rummelhart had no idea that it was possible to buy things -- buy them with real money -- inside the game. In this case, her son bought one bushel and 11 buckets of "Smurfberries," tokens that speed up gameplay."
With devices that link directly to iTunes, users can purchase these items without needing to provide credit card information because that data is already part of the iTunes store.
Usually, the purchases require the owner of the device to enter his or her iTunes password. But there is no password challenge if the owner has entered the password in the last 15 minutes for any reason. Capcom and other game publishers have no control over the 15-minute password-free period, which's set by Apple.
Apple's spokeswoman Trudy Muller says "the password system is adequate and points out that parents can restrict in-app purchases. The parents contacted for the story received refunds from Apple after complaining, and praised the company's responsiveness."