Why is the freemium model dying

Here's how to keep your kids from spending thousands of dollars on in-app purchases

More than $ 5000. This is how much money a man's child spent on his credit card playing “free” games on his iPad. While many games are advertised as free, they try to drive expensive in-app purchases.

Some children - especially younger ones - may not notice that the “buy more things” option in a free game is charging the credit card that you have on your tablet or smartphone.

What is an in-app purchase?

Operating systems with app stores such as iOS, Android, and Windows Phone enable in-app purchases for apps that you have installed in the store. For example, in theory you could install a video store app, search for a video in the app, and then rent it. The app can use an in-app purchase to charge your credit card with the video, so you can pay quickly without leaving the app. This is the concept for in-app purchases.

Many games differ from paid models when you pay a few dollars to buy the game or when you buy a "freemium" model where the game is available for free but payments are or are required to get that Continue game. This could be in the form of a dollar for a few more levels, but is usually much worse and more expensive. Many freemium games have extremely cynical business models, driving players to spend tens or even hundreds of dollars on in-game items that may not last long, making these "free" games more expensive than many paid games.

Some freemium games use in-app purchases in Responsible Business, but some - especially for kids - use very unethical business models. Tap Fish, a mobile game once featured by The Daily Show, is a virtual aquarium where fish die if you don't feed them. But don't worry - if your beloved virtual fish dies, you can revive them at the expense of real money. It's not hard to see why in-app purchase games for kids can be extremely unethical.

iPhone and iPad

With Apple's iOS, you can turn on restrictions on in-app purchases. You can create a passcode that you will need when someone tries to make an in-app purchase.

  • Open the Settings app and tap the General category.
  • On the General screen, tap Restrictions.
  • Enable restrictions and create a password. Choose one that only you, not your children, know.
  • Scroll down to Allowed Content and set In-App Purchases to Off. Your device asks you for your password every time you make an in-app purchase.
  • Set Password Required to Immediate. This will ensure that you will be asked to confirm each in-app purchase. With the default setting of 15 minutes, in-app purchases can be made within 15 minutes of entering your password without a password.


In the Google Play Store, you can create a PIN that you have to enter every time you buy an app in the store or make in-app purchases.

  • Open the Google Play Store app.
  • Tap the menu button and select Settings.
  • Under User Controls, tap Set or change a PIN and create a PIN. Choose one that your kids don't know or can't guess.
  • Enable the Use PIN for purchases option.

Kindle Fire

With the Amazon Appstore on the Kindle Fire, you can restrict and even deactivate in-app purchases.

  • Open the Store app, press the menu button and tap Settings.
  • Tap Parental Control.
  • Tap the Enable parental controls check box. You will now need to enter your Amazon.com password every time you make a purchase. You can also tap Use PIN to create a PIN for purchases.

You can also tap In-App Purchases on the Settings screen and turn off In-App Purchases entirely. However, they can also be reactivated from here if you do not activate the parental controls.

It is important that you restrict in-app purchases and allow young children to use your device. It sure is better than telling your story to the local newspaper in hopes that you can get Apple to reverse thousands of dollar credit card fees.

Photo credit: 401 (K) 2013 on Flickr