1. Dragons: Rise of Berk, a free-to-play game for smartphones and tablets, was the surprise winner of the Fans' Choice category at the Canadian Video Game Awards last week. Free-to-play games are popular — and lucrative — but can have real costs in money and privacy.
  2. The game, based on the How To Train Your Dragon movies, took the award in a category that included popular console titles like Assassin's Creed IV and Watch_Dogs, as well as critics’ favourite Child of Light. The ceremoney took place in Toronto and two nominated developers spoke with Metro Morning guest host Piya Chattopadhyay.
  3. Developed by Ludia, a game studio in Montreal, Rise of Berk follows a familiar format for this type of game: Collect resources to build your village, improve your buildings, hatch more dragons to collect more resources and on it goes.
  4. DreamWorks Dragons: Rise of Berk
  5. At every step of the game, you’re encouraged to speed things along by spending the game’s currency. In the case of Rise of Berk, it’s runes. And, of course, when you run out of runes, you can buy more with real money.

    It’s possible to enjoy free-to-play games without spending any money, but there’s a reason why many of the top grossing games on Apple’s iTunes App Store are in this category. Whether it’s Clash of Clans, Candy Crush or Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, these games are very good at turning players into payers.

    There have been horror stories about parents discovering that their kids have spent hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on runes, credits, K-coins and gems.

    A recent episode of South Park lampooned the concept of free-to-play or freemium games.

    Apple has faced criticism for not doing enough to prevent users from spending money inadvertently this way, known as in-app purchases.

    That’s why, just last week, Apple changed all their App Store buttons for downloading such games. They used to say “Free.” Now they say “Get,” and include a disclaimer if the app allows you to buy things with real money.

    But it’s not just the money that’s cause for concern.

    Many free-to-play games encourage players to connect the game to their social media accounts. Dragons: Rise of Berk will give you 50 runes for logging on to Facebook. That’s also the only way you can play your game on multiple devices.

    Matthew Johnson of MediaSmarts, a charity that advocates for digital and media literacy, has some concerns about that.

    “It’s important for people to be aware that third-party apps such as games have their own privacy settings and in many cases they will access more of your information than maybe your friends or other people you’re connected to will have access to,” he said.

    Johnson says players and their parents need to know what they’re getting into when they connect a social media profile to a game.

    “First of all, they need to find out what the game is taking from the Facebook account, what it is sharing and whom it is sharing it with,” he said.

    “In a lot of cases these are free because they’re selling or trading the data that’s being collected from people’s profiles,” said Johnson. You can read Ludia's privacy policy for its games on its website.

    In the end, you may be fine with the information the game collects about you, as long as you can build your village and breed your dragons. But it’s important to know what that information is and how you can control it.

    “We need to educate everybody, but young people in particular, about data privacy concerns,” said Johnson.
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