Gaming apps under test: pressure to buy, sex and hate

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Written By Kampretz Bianca

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Comic-style killing, pool sex scenes – and usernames like “HeilAdolf” or “Judenkiller88”. We found all this and more in our test of 16 popular Android gaming apps. Stiftung Warentest examined, among other things, to what extent providers protect children from this type of content, whether age-related access restrictions can be circumvented and whether operators do anything about it when users request contact details of children in chats. We also look at how apps approach data protection and how much they use manipulative design to pressure users into continuing to play and purchase in-app content.

Our test shows where parents should be particularly vigilant when their children use gaming apps – and how they can prevent typical dangers.

Why gaming app testing is worth it for you

Test results

Stiftung Warentest evaluated 16 widely used gaming apps for Android, including titles such as Brawl Stars, Candy Crush, Clash of Clans, Fortnite, Minecraft, Pokémon Go and Roblox. We test apps for, among other things, child-friendly content, safe use, pressure to buy, and pressure to play.

The best gaming app for your child

One of the 16 apps clearly stands out from the competition in terms of suitability for children. We tell you what makes it better than the competition – and why it’s still problematic in other ways.

Tips and instructions

We explain how to protect your children from inappropriate content and how to avoid in-app purchases.

Magazine article in PDF

After activation, you will receive the magazine article for exam 6/2024 and the pre-test for exam 10/2019 for download.

Gaming apps under test: shooting, sex and anti-Semitism

All game apps in testing are approved for ages 0, 6, or 12. There are games for kids and gaming apps for teenagers. One of the most important checkpoints was therefore whether there were elements that were not suitable for children. In fact, this was the case for some apps: when searching for the test winner, we found shooting games, sex scenes and scary monsters. And, unfortunately, also countless hateful messages, many of them anti-Semitic. We cannot recommend games with this content – ​​especially for children.

We also check what security measures providers use to protect children from harmful content. For example, an offline mode can help, as some problems cannot occur without an Internet connection. And we examine how providers react when problematic content is reported by users – such as chat questions for children’s phone numbers. Unfortunately, the way operators handled these reports was often not exemplary. We carried out the test on Android versions, but the games are also available for iOS.

Tip: Looking for the best gaming app for kids? Even before activation, you can view table contents for free and without registration, such as the names of all tested game apps.

How apps manipulate children and create pressure

Although most gaming apps are free, operators rely heavily on in-app purchases to make money. Players can purchase virtual weapons, textiles, or resources such as coins, gems, or stardust. Up to 240 euros may be incurred per purchase in the applications examined. Vendors use many design tricks to pressure users into purchasing – children, in particular, are often vulnerable to such mechanisms.

Only if parents know how these mechanisms work will they be able to protect their children from them. We explain ISP scams and show examples so that parents and children can recognize these so-called “dark patterns”.

Surreptitious advertising and data protection violations

There are certainly advertising-free gaming apps for children. However, some games have advertising built in – usually in the form of product placement: for example, you can enter the digital boutique of a well-known Italian fashion brand with your character and buy virtual bags there for real money. All of this happens without the boutique scene and the objects sold there being labeled as advertising.

The results of our data protection tests were even more unpleasant: all 16 children’s gaming apps tested had serious deficiencies in their data protection declarations. The same applies to the general terms and conditions. We explain what exactly the deficiencies are in the fine print.

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