You’ve read the headlines, and know that Apple has reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to the tune of $32.5 million in consumer refunds for what many parents cited as unauthorized in-app purchases. You know that for Apple, the problem – at least from the FTC’s perspective – was that once a user enters their password to make a purchase, that password remains active for a 15-minute window, during which time the user can purchase at will.
But you also realize by now that it’s parents who have been the drivers behind the complaints. Starting in 2011 and continuing through to today, parents across the globe have gotten more vocal about their displeasure with apps that allow their children to rack up the charges as they play.
At the same time, the freemium business model remains popular, with good reason. One report noted that 93% of gaming app revenue in 2013 came via the freemium business model, up from 86% in 2012. It’s challenging to make money from apps, and freemium is about as close as industry can get to guaranteeing at least some income.
For developers making apps intended for children, or for those who have made products that happen to appeal to children, the challenge is obvious: how do you develop a successful business model while steering clear of parental complaint and regulatory scrutiny that can damage your business before it even gets off the ground? How do you make your mark as a responsible – and successful – developer?
There are a few places to start in setting up for success in the children’s market:
First, recognize that you’re not just in the business of making apps. You’re in the business of making apps for children. It requires that you understand not just mobile development, but also children’s product development. To take that further, it requires an understanding of how those in the children’s industry create entertainment, products, content, advertising and marketing intended for young consumers. It’s different. It takes into account specific sensibilities that children have related to how they understand and interact with content and sell messaging.
Next, take that knowledge and add to it, by learning about the regulation and self-regulation that exists around advertising and marketing intended for children. Know what the regulations are, and what the regulators are looking at, even if there’s no law yet. There are also self-regulations and industry norms that have been around for decades, and which can help guide responsible product development and marketing. Once you get a handle on all of that, you’ll realize that there are some specific areas of scrutiny that require special treatment in order to stay on the right side of the conversation.
Finally, add that to what you already know when you’re creating products that might appeal to children: the responsibility lies in your hands. Children are not savvy consumers, and the best way to make your mark in the business is to do right by them, and market to them at their level. That sometimes means special sell language, parental controls, a different, more sensible price point than you might see otherwise and more disclosures than you might be used to.
In the end though, if you start with the child in mind, you’ll be able to create robust, successful products that children and their parents can enjoy, while meeting your business goals and leaving the criticism and controversies around freemium models behind.