The Talking Friends apps are a phenomenon among children and adults alike, with Talking Tom Cat, Talking Ginger and friends having been downloaded 1.2bn times, with 170m people playing with them every month.
The release of a new Talking Friends app is big news, then. Developer Outfit7 has just launched My Talking Tom, the latest app featuring its Talking Tom Cat character.
In the past, these apps’ main appeal has been the way kids could talk into their smartphone or tablet’s microphone then have Tom squeakily repeat back to them, although puzzles and mini-games were part of it.
My Talking Tom takes a step on it’s more of a virtual pet game where Tom starts as a kitten and gradually grows up, with your children tasked with keeping him entertained, fed, rested, and toileted (is that a verb?), while also customizing the way he and his home looks.
That makes it more of a game, with players leveling up (50 is the maximum) to unlock new clothes, furniture and food along the way. But yes, Tom (or whatever your child decides to name their virtual kitten) will still repeat what he’s told.
We’ve been playing this morning, and it’s fun, including a whack-a-mouse mini-game that should have kids roaring with laughter.
However, if you’re letting a child play with the app on a device linked to your credit card, you’ll need to a.) ensure your in-app purchase restrictions are set up, and b.) have the ‘virtual items purchases’ talk with your child, if you haven’t already.
Why? Well, the various items in the game, from different colored fur to hats and food, are bought using virtual gold coins. These can be earned by playing the game, by leveling up, and by watching video ads for other games.
But they can also be bought with real money: from 69p for 2,000 coins to a whopping £69.99 for 300,000. We can’t find any way as a parent to turn off the option to access the gold coins store, although making any form of purchase does remove the banner ads that appear at the top of the screen.
(Which, this morning, seem to be focusing exclusively on another game, Jelly Splash, so thankfully there’s no repeat of the Wonga cash loan ads or ringtone subscription controversies from earlier Talking Friends apps.)
£69.99 in-app purchases? My personal view is that it sets my teeth on edge in a children’s app, even though there’s no danger of my kids spending money without me knowing thanks to my device restrictions being turned on.
If a game is selling gold coins in quantities of up to 300,000, will it also be adding virtual items that cost that much to buy – and will my children be seeing them in the store and feeling cross or sad about not being able to buy them?
That’s a personal view. Other parents may well feel differently – and Outfit7 may well argue that My Talking Tom won’t only be played by kids, so some adult players may genuinely want to buy £69.99 of gold coins. Perhaps they will. The main thing is to be aware as a parent of what the game is offering, and how to sort your in-app purchase settings out.