A veteran of the console wars and left unsupervised online since the late 90's, Bryan has seen the best and the worst the internet has to offer. Having worked for the gaming and financial sectors providing IT support he is currently a consultant with RITS Information Security. His parents have still not given up hope that he will grow out of it someday.
Kids Spending Money in Games: What Parents Need to Know
One of the things that has changed most in gaming over the last few years is the simple way in which games are sold. Once it was a simple matter, buying a game and experiencing all it had to offer, but now games are designed to be constantly evolving with additional premium content that can be downloaded from the internet, referred to as Downloadable Content (DLC). In this blog post we are going to look at the purchase control methods available to parents to prevent accidental spending by their children for the three major consoles.
Types of DLC
DLC can be broken into three broad categories: "cosmetic", "gameplay", and" consumable". Some items may fall into more than one category.
Cosmetic DLC is just that. Simple, cosmetic changes to characters, such as a silly hat or a sound effect for a weapon. This is usually cheap on a per-item basis, but plentiful, giving players a huge variety of purchase options to customise their appearance etc.
Gameplay DLC is a significant expansion to gameplay such as a new set of maps to play on, new characters with new abilities, or even an entirely different style of gameplay. These items are more substantial in cost, but offer genuine and often drastic changes to a game, potentially breathing new life into last year's purchase for a comparatively low price. On the other hand, without these more important pieces of DLC a player will be unable to play with the majority of the game's userbase.
Consumable DLC is the final type of DLC, and the most important one to bring to the attention of parents. This is a type of purchase which is bought, used a limited number of times or for a limited timeframe, and is then used up, requiring another purchase if the player wants to use it again. This represents things like experience point boosts or limited-time unlocks of some other content.
For all types, purchases can be disguised by using a platform or game's intermediary currency, such asV-bucks in the game Fortnite . This is where the term "microtransaction" comes from- the term that applies to small value financial transactions that happen within games. The use of an in-game currency or a currency associated with the gaming console, has the beneficial side effect of diluting the value of an item in the purchaser's mind, and to stop them asking if a hat is really worth five euro? Players may also often earn a portion of the currency needed to buy items through gameplay. This further blurs the distinction between real currency and in-game currency, encouraging players to spend without thinking.
The above have, in some cases, given rise to peer pressure and bullying amongst children. Children are being primed to associate access to DLC with skill and prestige, and to tie their self-worth to the perception others have of their digital avatars. This can be risky for children, who often do not make the connection between in-game spending and real money. Accidental spending of low amounts of money is common, and stories of children spending large amounts are not unheard of, as children try to buy their way into the esteem of their peers.
Advice For Parents
So now that we understand the problem, what can we do aboutit? The primary action to take, as always, is to understand what games children are playing and how they engage with the games. Talk to them, find out what they like and don’t like about the game and why they gain value from it. This may require some tough conversations. The second action is to limit the spending to a level you are comfortable with. Like all security and safety issues, this is a trade-off between convenience and control.
On Xbox, you can set up a parent/child relationship between accounts and to then set up live approval of purchases for your children. This is particularly useful as the Xbox LIVE service requires an ongoing subscription, and many parents find it easy to fall into the trap of putting a credit card on a child's account "just this once" when a prepaid option runs out at a bad time and to leave it there for convenience's sake.
Nintendo, being the most child-friendly of companies, have made it very easy to manage your children's spending.
All three companies offer pre-paid cards available in many retailers, likely including your local supermarket. This option is the least convenient as it requires leaving the house but it offers the most control, as cards can be purchased ahead of time and stashed away for rewards or rainy days.