Strings Attached: Revisiting Windows 10 Store and In-App Purchasing

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After a $240 mishap with in-app purchasing in the store located in Windows 10 (also in Windows 8.1)  I have been doing a little research into the monster that I believe is in-app purchasing.

It use to be many years ago (ok maybe only a few) that one could go to a favorite store in town to purchase a complete game for a computer for around $40-$50, take it home and have fun with it, end of story.    Today we find gaming is changing in many ways.  Not only are younger and younger kids getting involved, it is becoming easier and easier to access them.   When we talk about in-app purchasing, it basically means that within the app store there are purchases to be had within games and apps themselves.  Usually these games are free or are available up front for very low-cost.   However, these games and apps come with what I call, “strings attached”  and allow the game or app to be unlocked a little bit by little bit for a small charge (usually $2-$4 and sometimes even $$50-$99 and more).   Perhaps two dollars doesn’t seem like much for a game but like I said there are strings attached.  What can happen is, that in order to advance within the game one must put forward the $2 and to advance to another level or unlock more features another $2 must be charged and so on.  Now imagine if a person did this for more than one game or app.  It can add up, especially if the purchase is $100 and more than once.  Now imagine if your kids or grand-kids had their own computer or tablet complete with Windows 10 and did this purchasing for you–over and over without you aware of it.    Let me hope you are aware of the potential for this to occur (even for adults) so it doesn’t happen.  But if you do know what your kids are doing, even then it is sometimes difficult to detect what is or isn’t a in-app purchase until after it has been authorized.   This where I think it would be nice to be able to disable them completely with ease.

Now, on an iPad or iPhone it is quite simple to control in-app purchasing.  It’s simply a matter of enabling or disabling in-app purchasing restrictions.  Yes Apple, and most smart phones have a toggle switch to do this.   So why does it appear this feature is missing on a Windows computer?  The short answer is, I don’t really know but it’s hard not to think money or a deal with the app developers may be involved.  Or perhaps it’s just a giant oversight that nobody has yet to discover except me.  I doubt it.   Whatever the reason, besides banning your kids from using a Windows computer (specifically Windows 10) or from using a Windows 10 tablet you may wonder how to prevent this inadvertent in-app purchasing.

The only way I know how is to completely remove a payment option from within a Microsoft account you have linked to the store.  It will be necessary to be sure payment options are removed and added whenever a purchase is desired.   Other than that it gets a bit messy because I am not sure all “free” apps can be opened without a payment option in place.  Adding and removing a credit card for every situation seems less than user-friendly.   But another question I want to address is why does appear so easy for anyone to authorize the transactions of in-app purchases in the first place?

I believe the answer to this is actually quite obvious.   First, we know in-app purchases are put in place by developers to make money but at what cost to the consumer?   In-app purchasing is a trap waiting to catch unsuspecting kids (and adults).   Their goal is to not only catch us but to catch lots of us.  Unfortunately, for we consumers it is a developer’s dream that we have allowed it this way because overall this seems to be what we want.   Therefore purchasing apps in a piece meal kinda way has become the norm for how we buy and will continue to buy apps.    Would you rather pay $50 for a program up front or play a game that says it’s free (with in-app purchases available).    In a society where people are driven to seek out instant gratification, many are choosing this way of purchasing which appears “free” until they find out later it’s not all true.

I believe Microsoft is partly to blame–at least for the time being.  I will tell you why I believe so in a minute.   Of course, free apps with in-app purchasing capabilities isn’t all bad for the consumer.    I don’t think there is really anything wrong with trying out a game or app for “free” before you buy.  It’s great for the consumer and it can only help a developer’s reputation in the long run.   That is until we discover there are “hidden” or even hefty additional charges.  When a developer hides their charges, I would consider them more devious and money hungry than helpful.  In addition to hiding in-app purchases, it seems to me to be less than honest to include in-proportionate over inflated prices for simple virtual software.  The “try before you buy” way works fine when one can be certain about additional charges and when the prices are proportionate and value matches with what you get.   Of course a kid doesn’t know what value is necessarily nor even cares about the ins and outs of game prices.  So a parent must be aware of what is going on when it comes to what their kids are doing online.

In Windows Store,  Microsoft doesn’t seem to have an option to enable or disable in-app purchases and I as mentioned already, I have found some in-app purchases are even disguised as part of the game!  This where I believe Microsoft could do a better job of protecting its customers from inadvertent in-app purchasing and mistakes.

So while I don’t necessarily like the way of the future as it pertains to pc games or app purchasing and in-app purchasing procedure, I really dislike the inability to easily enable or disable in-app purchasing from within the Windows App Store.   A simple toggle switch would go a long way in making Windows Store a safer experience for everyone who uses it.

If you have found a way to do this (without the need to connect or reconnect payment options under a Microsoft account or even set-up permissions for a separate user) please share it with me and I believe many people (including myself) will thank you.

 

 

Related interest: http://www.imore.com/problem-app-purchases-and-what-do-about-it

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