Not too surprisingly, Gameview Studios’ co-founder Riz Virk was not too happy with his portrayal on The Daily Show this week. Aasif Mandvi interviewed him on a segment that aired on Thursday night and criticized the freemium model for taking advantage of children and unknowing parents. Mandvi pointed out extreme cases in which a parent gets unwittingly charged hundreds of dollars in virtual currency purchases. We’ve embedded the clip below.
In one part of the clip, he springs Virk with a phone call from an angry parent who berates the company.
But Virk says in a blog post that the show left out some key points, namely that the parent was actually refunded by Apple a few days after the purchases happened.
I actually took the time to speak to the parent, address his concerns, and explain to him how in app purchasing works, how to turn it off, and why it was bad for us when this kind of thing happens – where it counts – financially! The parent got his money back, and Apple got their “profit” from us even though this wasn’t a real sale for us nor did we make any money from it. I’m not saying this was a good situation but making it seem like we were profiting from the situation was completely ridiculous, since we’re the only ones who lose money in these situations!
The parent actually thanked me by the end of the call and thought I was being reasonable.
The Daily Show producer, Brennan, told me that they probably wouldn’t show the actual phone conversation because if they did, I would come across as an “honest CEO who cares about his customer” and that we weren’t “outrageous enough”! They actually told me this – but decided to show the setup of the call and make me look bad anyways!
At one point, I can’t remember if it was Aasif or Brennan, but they told me I should have called the parent a “f****ing idiot” for giving his kids his iTunes password. Maybe that’s how the TV guys in New York think about these kids and parents, but it’s certainly not how we approach this issue, and not how I dealt with it personally.
He also goes on to say that like in many other freemium games, only a small percentage of users actually pay for virtual currency.
Despite being almost entirely inaccurate, editing out the most relevant information about my conversation with the parent (and making me look squirmy when they sprung it on me), believe it or not, there were still a few things about the segment that I found funny, so I guess I have to just laugh at it.
But I didn’t find the implication that we’re out to exploit kids funny at all, and they could’ve shown this wasn’t the case by simply showing my actual conversation with the parent on the phone! But we were too reasonable and weren’t cussing! To say that is our primary business purpose is insulting to the millions of players who have played for free, it’s insulting to (the very few) entrepreneurs who are building the new economy and creating jobs here in the US.
The whole incident mostly goes to show that there still isn’t a good child-safe mode on iOS for parents to let their kids play freemium games. When parents enter their iTunes password to download a new app or make a purchase, there’s still a 15-minute window that a child can take advantage of to download more content or buy more virtual currency.
Parents need to be more vigilant about sharing their iTunes passwords, just like they would be cautious about handing their children credit cards. Or Apple needs to have a more restricted mode for parents where there isn’t a 15-minute window. That might be painful for some developers, but bad press isn’t great either.