Japan has become the world’s top country for mobile application revenue, according to an application tracking research firm, App Tracker. With Japanese going crazy for smartphone apps and tablet games, consumers in Japan now spend 10 percent more than U.S. consumers on all apps. Even a year ago, Japanese consumers spent roughly 40 percent less than U.S. customers on such apps and games, but this year’s upswing, as well as the wave of smartphone use, has helped turn Japan into an unabashed app-loving country.

That’s good news for those individuals and companies supplying Japanese consumers with digital content, worth ¥851 billion in 2012. In addition to apps, Japan also spends more on mobile phone games than North Americans, where there are three times more players.

In short, Japan has become a nation of game-players fiddling with their smartphones and tablet computers at an ever-increasing rate.

Part of the boom comes from developers employing increasingly clever tactics to get players to pay more. Like casinos, which have mastered the art of delivering a combination of euphoric and distressing experiences — rewards and punishments in other words — online content and game providers are finding ever more sophisticated ways to extract money for extended play or sideline purchases.

Many apps and games are free at first, but require payment, often in seemingly innocuous virtual currency, to move to higher levels, continue playing or add elements. It may seem inevitable that an ever-increasing number of Japanese spend time would stare into screens where their losses and rewards are manipulated by carefully controlled systems. Still, it is an activity fraught with potential dangers.

Adults, of course, are free to spend their money as they like, but apps and games are being increasingly downloaded by children. Many games marketed toward children display screens loaded with potential in-app purchases.

Many apps and games are simply entry sites for further purchases, luring unsuspecting customers with what some might call marketing strategy and what others would call deception.

The brave new world of apps and games on the cellphone may be a new form of marketing, advertising and revenue streaming, but it also poses dangers to unwary consumers.

Children, especially, need protection from apps or games that may reveal private or security information. Other apps include hidden malware that can lead to being billed large amounts.

For nongame players, the obsession with apps and games may appear as yet another form of escapism, addiction or a sign of disintegrating socialization. For some, such games and apps may simply be a way to kill time during long commutes.

Nevertheless, the government should help ensure that apps and games are bought and sold responsibly and that children, in particular, are protected from over-zealous marketers and unscrupulous app makers.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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