A lot of parents will be excited at the launch of a new SpongeBob SquarePants game for iPhone and iPad. We suspect quite a few of them may be less impressed by its inclusion of in-app purchases (IAP) of up to £69.99.
Yes, another big children’s brand is going down the IAP route: see also The Croods, Shrek, and Playmobil. Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob Moves In was released today on Apple’s App Store.
The game sees you starting from scratch with SpongeBob’s story. “Move him into his Pineapple house, get a job at the Krusty Krab, and build your very own Bikini Bottom,” explains the App Store listing. “As your town turns into a thriving undersea city, you’ll unlock new characters, buildings, decorations, and areas like Jellyfish Fields.”
Along the way, you can unlock animated shorts showing scenes from SpongeBob’s history, make a host of familiar landmarks, and chuckle along to the real voices from the SpongeBob TV show. All good fun.
But yes, in-app purchases. As you play, you earn gold coins and “Jellyfish Jelly” for your achievements and Bikini Bottom expansion, which can then be used to buy more land, ingredients, buildings, and decorations.
We said “earn”, but the coins and jelly can also be bought via IAP. 25 jars of Jellyfish Jelly costs £0.69 from the in-app store, rising to £69.99 for 4,000 jars. Meanwhile, coins start at £0.69 for 100, rising to £34.99 for 10,000.
In fairness to Nickelodeon, a pop-up message is displayed the first time you load the game: “Additional cool stuff can be purchased in SpongeBob Moves In! It’ll be charged to your iTunes account. You can adjust your device setting to lock the ability to make In-App purchases!” And the use of IAP is also made clear in the App Store listing for the game.
But still. Going as high as £69.99 in a children’s game – and granted, SpongeBob has a fair few adult fans too – makes me uncomfortable, even with those warnings to parents to check their IAP restrictions.
Why so high? Particularly as it’s a sensitive time for the whole issue of IAP and children, with the UK’s Office of Fair Trading investigating how virtual items are sold (and marketed) to kids within apps.
But perhaps we’re getting needlessly on a high horse about this: what do you think? Let us know your thoughts on IAP by posting a comment.