How and Where Mobile Developers Target Children

Ah, YouTube. The go-to for broke-ass working Joes and Joettes like myself. As a content creator, I enjoy popping into my friends’ channels for my retrogaming needs, such as Brasel the Gamer, SHMUP Master, and BenevolentDick to name a few. However, when the neighbor kid or my very own seed has the reins, all bets are off and all the wrong people know it (more on this soon).

Where many of us have become accustomed to soaking in content from a small selection of channels, kids are hell on wheels. If I really want to screw up my viewing history and channel recommendations, I’ll give a kid control. Everything from The King of Random to Guava Juice all want your money one way or another (Lord knows they have bills to pay, too), but their target demographic sure as hell isn’t anyone over the age of 18.

Now this is the part where so-called incensed parents will get in my face telling me that I should be policing every aspect of my child’s life. Put down your pitchforks, weenies, there’s a right way and a wrong way to effectively rear children, but it’s beyond the scope of this article.

This one is for those with kids who have access to mobile phones, wireless internet, and your AutoPay details, so listen up.

Stating Sponsorship is Not Enough

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In recent years, the FTC has begun squeezing the balls of money-hungry corporations and the YouTube minions that they employ for deceptive practices. Thanks to the unscrupulous efforts of organizations like Machinima, Warner Bros. and Micro$oft, the Federal Trade Commission has dictated that sponsorships and paid advertisements need to be transparent.

To this end, the caster in question will typically state that what they’re about to talk about is a paid advertisement. So everything’s hunky dory, right?

What about this video from The King of Random, where making swamp water drinkable is the main topic. In other words, the perfect video for Grant to get us to check out a shitty Walking Dead mobile game.

Seeing how it’s a mobile game based on a hugely popular license, there’s no way that they could exploit this to maximize profits, right? Oh wait…

And those disclaimers that Tubers like Grant are required to say before sponsored endorsements? Sure, most adults who don’t eat glue or make poop statues would know what “sponsored” means, but what do you think your average 12-year old hears?

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Truly parasitic.

 

Sponsorship Makes Less Sense Now

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As mentioned above, many of these shitty freemium apps have odd advert placement. Because seriously, what adult in their right mind wouldn’t want to download Hero Wars because a grown man reviewing Nerf guns said so? Probably not many in this day and age.

As I’ve mentioned before, many working adults don’t have the time to sink hours upon hours into a game anymore. Even more so, even less of them play with Nerf guns unless they work for a pseudo-Google office who also pretends to be progressive.

So, if adults aren’t the intended audience, who is? Children, of course, with their soft squishy brains and (fingers crossed) unbridled access to in-app purchases! *faints

In truth, advertisers have been doing this for years. When I was growing up, the commercials had me convinced that all the cool kids were playing Crossfire, and that I was missing out.

What separates this from the tactics of mobile marketers today is that it made sense. This commercial typically aired during my Saturday morning Looney Tunes binges, along with Polly Pocket, Creepy Crawlers, and Teddy Ruxpin, all of which required a trip to the store and thus, more thought than simply hitting Confirm on a touchscreen.

All in all though, this approach made sense because they figured that kids and impressionable adults who can be pressured would typically be watching cartoons. A much better fit than a Doritos commercial where a guy launches a crystal ball into his boss’ nuts, eh?

Truly a work of art.

And this is where the ad approach of the new millennium doesn’t make sense. Why is a guy who reviews Nerf guns trying to get kids, his target demographic, to download Hero Wars, replete with 10 options for in-app purchases? Why is a guy who does amazing science experiments trying to get kids, also his target demographic, to download TWD: No Man’s Land?

I get it, really. They’re trying to make a buck, and I’m sure those guys got a sweet fee for touting this garbage, but not one of those channels has anything to do with the shit that they’re forcing you to listen to before they get to the content that you actually clicked on their link for.

Long story short, these apps are backed by insanely wealthy corporations who want nothing more than to maximize their return of investment by enticing children through their YouTube channel of choice. The kids click on a video, see their favorite content creators, then tempted to download an awesome app that all the cool kids are playing these days.

Sounds like a win-win…for those making money. And speaking of which…

It’s Still Happening

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Back in 2014, Google was ordered to pay a $19 million dollar settlement for unauthorized purchases after a complaint from the FTC. The complaint came as a direct result of unwitting children racking up hundreds of dollars in in-app purchases across the country. Also swallowed up in the melee were tech giants Apple, Inc. and Amazon, all of which who also had to pay millions in settlements.

The FTC complaint stated that the lines between in-game purchases and real-life purchases “can be blurred”, and this becomes especially true when the player is an unknowing child and their parents are typically forced to add credit card info before any app can be downloaded, even free (and “free”) ones.

The King of Random Video mentioned above was uploaded on July 6, 2017, and the Coop772 Nerf Review video was uploaded December 26th, 2017, both of which point to shitty mobile apps that:

  1. Force you to purchase Gold or Recharges for your characters with very real money.
  2. Lock you out of progressing further through lengthy cooldown periods.
  3. Exploit children by hitting them where they spend most of their free time.

If most freemium apps act this way, then maybe it’s not a stretch as to why a majority of the gaming community doesn’t take mobile gaming seriously. But not to worry, your average and savvy 18-24 year old is not the target demographic; their children are.

What Parents Can Do About It

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So, before you find your middling booze money getting siphoned away by Lil’ Johnny’s Candy Crush addiction, there are steps you can take to avoid getting fleeced by these soulless shit sucking developers.

  1. Enable Ask to Buy  where available.
  2. Avoid inserting credit card information all together.
  3. Communicate with your children on what’s acceptable and what’s not.
  4. Delete abusive apps and leave scathing reviews that go into great detail.

Problems like this shouldn’t exist, but they do because these corporations like to make money however they can, even if their efforts begin to cross into unethical territory. And in case you were wondering how bad it can get unchecked, take a look at the guy who spent $16,000 on buffs for Final Fantasy Brave Exvius and understandably alienated himself from his wife and kids.

Well, that was fun. Anyone up for a rousing game of Star Wars: Battlefront II? Oh wait…

 

Wanna hear more about how developers hide crucial story elements behind DLC paywalls after already paying full retail price for a new game? Click here and rage away!

Are you a frustrated parent looking to blame admittedly bloodthirsty developers looking to make a buck any way they can, no matter how predatory? Stop giving them your money, cut all ties, and talk with your kids!

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