After the loot boxes controversy, when some countries banned this mechanic from being used in games, Google announced (on May, 30th 2019) new rules to improve kids protection. Now, developers must follow a few recommendations in order to launch games and apps on Google Play/Android.
This set of measures doesn’t affect kids directly but protects them from some actions considered abusive that are subtly present in games, such as loot boxes.
Among the new rules published by Google, the one about loot boxes says that apps that offer purchase mechanisms with random prizes (loot boxes) have to disclose in a clear way the chances of receiving these items before the loot box is purchased.
Displaying this information makes it easier for users to evaluate whether it’s worth buying loot boxes or not. The same measure regarding loot boxes was taken by China and South Korea. Some games implemented this change last year already, before Google’s notice.
In addition to the loot boxes measure, the other one Google is going to implement is that developers need to make sure the app doesn’t appeal to a kid audience, even if unintentionally. Google ensures that it “double check your app marketing to confirm this and ask you to make adjustments where required.”
With these new rules, kids will be less exposed to some abusive practices within the games and apps in the Google Play store. Loot boxes will continue to exist in some games, but they will disclose more information for kids and parents to decide if it’s worth buying them.
It’s important to be present when your kids are buying an app or making in-app purchases, to participate in the purchases and explain how they work.
Kids are also going to be more protected in the stores. Many apps and games that are not for kids use figures, colors and elements that attract a younger audience.
As of September 2019, non-kids apps will undergo evaluations in order to keep them from calling children’s attention. This measure protects kids from apps that are not made for them and, consequently, from being exposed to any inappropriate content the apps may have.
Again, the presence of parents or responsible adults when kids are using apps or navigating on app stores is very important and can’t be replaced by any protection measures taken by companies.
Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are working on a new loot boxes update for PC and console games. The confirmation came from Michael Warnecke, the ESA’s (Entertainment Software Association) Chief Counsel of Tech Policy.
According to Michael Warnecke, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony have taken on a commitment to the ESA and are going to release on their platforms a new policy about paid loot boxes by the end of 2020. The new policy is going to require the disclosure of how rare each item is and how likely it is to obtain the random items from loot boxes.
The notion of probability and of identifying the real odds of winning something is a complex skill.
Not all kids are developed to the point of being able to evaluate whether it’s worth buying a loot box or not. In fact, most adults are also not prepared to evaluate this as well.
ESA’s main game publishers are also going to adopt similar policies to the ones developed by Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony to give more information to consumers.
ESA released a list of associated companies that are also going to change their loot boxes policies. Blizzard, Bandai Namco Entertainment, Bethesda, Bungie, Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Take-Two Interactive, Ubisoft, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, and Wizards of the Coast.
Some publishers didn’t commit to making any changes.
They are: 505 Games, Capcom, CI Games, Deep Silver, Disney Interactive Studios, Epic Games, Focus Home Interactive, Gearbox Publishing, GungHo, Intellivision Entertainment, Kalypso, Konami, Magic Leap, NCsoft, Natsume, Nexon, Rebellion, Riot Games, Sega, Square Enix, THQ Nordic, Tencent, and Marvelous.
Fortnite’s Epic Games stated that, in the beginning of the year, Fortnite’s team made a change in the game that showed which items the user would win before opening a paid loot box (which, in this case, is a llama). They also claim to be committed to changing the policy around loot boxes in all Epic Games’ games.
THC Nordic stated on Twitter that they haven’t made any commitments to ESA because none of their games have loot boxes – nor do they intend to change that.
Text: Luisa Scherer
Translation: Mariana Gruber
There’s a huge amount of applications available in app stores, especially kids apps. How can you decide which apps to download for your kids? How can you know if they’re good or trustworthy? We’ve made a list with 12 tips on how to choose apps for your kids.
In-app purchases, i.e. when the apps themselves try to sell “bonus” things, for example, generate frustration in kids and make them anxious to consume what is being offered.
Certainly, balance is key: there’s no problem in offering one thing or two to improve the experience of the users, but doing this in excess to the point it causes anxiety in users can be dangerous.
Try to choose apps without ads. Research indicates that advertising for kids in apps is more violent and assertive than TV ads.
According to a Popular Science article based on research published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, regulation of advertising for kids works differently in apps: it’s less effective. To reach its desired efficacy, these advertisements treat kids as tiny adults. However, kids aren’t able to tell the difference, within the app, between the advertisements and the game itself, and that can be harmful.
Some apps display their competence icon in their store description. This is quite interesting because you can gauge the skills your kid can develop by using these apps. For example, many educational apps help the literacy process.
Some techniques and strategies used by game apps foster user’s addiction.
There are some child-appropriate apps called “sandbox” in which users create a virtual world and there are barely any obstacles or difficulties that keep the player from reaching their goals, such as losing lives, for example, which usually makes players stop playing.
Another dynamic that leads to addiction is from games called ‘variable ratio reward’, the same system used in casinos. In these games, the user earns prizes easily every day, with random qualities.
This dynamic conditions the brain to check the apps daily and, due to facilitators such as the game’s wheel of prizes or the connection to social networks in which users can ask for more lives from their friends, users spend hours coming back to the app in order to check if they can go back to playing it.
There are many apps with these traits in the market and you need to pay attention to what your kids are consuming.
Overall, kids apps that simulate experiences, such as cooking a dish, reading a book or getting a haircut are great examples because kids can create a connection between virtual experiences and the real world, and vice versa. These apps stimulate kids’ creativity and don’t place them in a world apart from theirs, where they lose track of time.
Truth and Tales, an app that gathers interactive kids stories, is our first release. For now, the app counts on three available interactive books, four audiobooks, coloring activities and physical exercises. Since the app is updated monthly, we are constantly releasing new incredible content to add to Truth and Tales.
:: You can also read: ROBLOX: How to keep kids safe in the game ::
Only download apps that are in accordance with your kid’s age. If your kid is not within the age rating of the app, it’s because the content is too difficult or there are elements within the app that weren’t designed for people outside the rating’s age range, such as violence, nudity, guns and/or drug usage.
The blue light filter is there to protect your kid’s sleep, so that it isn’t affected by the apps when they are used at night. There are several available apps that have this feature.
Checking the app’s number of downloads and their reviews are good references to decide if they’re worth it, if they work, and if the developer is readily available to fix bugs and respond to user comments.
Storytelling is how the story is told, whether that happens through games, educational apps, or videos. There’s always a story and a context behind things. It is important to check if your kids can keep up with the narrative’s complexity and if said narrative fits their context.
It’s nice to keep an eye on the types of apps your kids want to download. Keeping a balance between games, books, video and educational apps is truly worth it. It’s also worth remembering that social apps such as Facebook and Instagram are only allowed to 13 year-olds or older.
Having seals and awards means quality, since the app has been reviewed and judged by people who aren’t the developers and also “competed”/”was compared” against other apps for seals and awards.
We recommend that you always research the company that develops the games and apps. Does it have a website? Has it developed other apps? Is there a FAQ section?
Checking the company gives you more security if you ever have questions or problems to solve involving the app.
Parental Control is an essential tool in kids apps since it keeps kids from making some decisions without the parents, such as making purchases without permission, watching inappropriate content, and so on.
Written by Luisa Scherer
Translated by Mariana Gruber