Did Your Child Become A Whale? Here Are Ways to Control Their Online Game Spending
Tue, April 20, 2021

Did Your Child Become A Whale? Here Are Ways to Control Their Online Game Spending


Do you remember your child pestering you to give them a new tablet during the holidays? It may seem like a distant memory but the profit-driven nature of the app store will inflict more financial pain on your pocket, said Joanne Orlando of The Conversation, a research and news website. Deliberate marketing to younger kids entails that you will receive more “gifts”, particularly in-game billing statements containing all the virtual goods your child purchased.

A parent from West Sussex narrated that their 12-year-old son spent £700 on Clash of Clans, quoted Zoe Kleinman of BBC, a British news channel. It was on the child’s phone and he was able to download the game through a Google Play account and purchase tons of virtual items. His family did not realize anything until they checked his bank statement, which came up empty.

The 12-year-old did not realize it was real money. His family never got their money back. This does not mean you should forbid your child from purchasing power-ups. Allowing your child to make in-game purchases entails exercising control to prevent financial stress from jeopardizing your life savings.

Parents Are Getting Stricter On Their Children’s In-Game Spending (2019)

Parents all over Europe exercised more authority in their kids’ in-game spending, according to a survey by SFE (Interactive Software Federation of Europe) survey, cited Brendan Sinclair of Gamesindustry.biz, a market leading website and community for news and information about the video game industry. The ISFE, an independent federation, found that 36% of parents said they permitted their kids to spend money in-game, down from 2018’s 42%.

60% said they did not allow their kids to spend money, up from 53% in 2018. A small percentage of parents (4%) were unsure if their child spends money in-game, down from 2018’s 5%. When asked how much their kids spend in-game, 62% of parents said the monthly average was between €1 and €20 while 16% answered “I don’t know.” 11% of parents reported that their child spends €21-40, 5% said €41-60, 4% said €80+, and 1% answered €61-80.

The survey found that 85% of parents had an agreement with their kids to regulate in-game spending, including asking their permission to purchase in-game goods. The figure was up from 2018’s 79%.

According to ISFE, asking for permission was the popular method of controlling in-game spending (58% of parents versus 2018’s 60%), followed by having an agreement to stick to weekly or monthly allowances (35% versus 31%), limiting spending by only using pre-paid cards (26% versus 20%),

Gaming devices’ built-in parental control tools were used by 21% of parents, down from 28% in 2018. Other parents monitor credit card bills (18% versus 25%) while 3% admitted that they don’t monitor their children’s spending (versus 2%). Those tools have been a critical part of the gaming industry’s arguments against potential loot box legislation and its response to concerns of video game addiction.



Virtual Temptations Lay Abound for Children to Buy

Most free apps can be finished quickly and kids will want the sequel, which costs money. Some apps have in-app purchases for profit such as Tap Pet Hotel and Tiny Zoo Friends. Most of these in-app purchases consist of treats and coins in the case of Tap Pet Hotel. However, virtual goods also include virtual currency, new features, or extra lives. The latter may tempt children if they are stuck in a level. 

In games such as Fortnite, kids may purchase skins for their characters with an in-game currency called V-bucks. Gaming expert and lecturer in digital culture at the University of Sydney Marcus Carter argued that kids want to look cool in video games, quoted Patrick Wright of ABC News, an Australian news service. He added, “Something that parents overlook or don't understand about games like Fortnite is that it's really a social space.”

Virtual items serve as a revenue stream for app developers who are cashing on their free games. Hence, kids can easily drain their parents’ bank account and rack up a huge bill without their knowledge.

In-app purchases are not inherently wrong, but some apps fail to give clear warnings that a person is about to spend money. An investigation conducted by European-based gaming organization Develop found that less than 33% of apps have clear warnings. Develop stated, “Some developers even claim their games are “completely free”, despite later asking players to stump up for power ups or tokens priced as high as £69.99.”



How to Stop Your Child From Draining Your Wallet and Bank Account

1.     Set Limits Around Loot Boxes

Seamus Bryne, a technology communicator, encourages his kids to enjoy the loot boxes when they have them, but they should not use it to obtain certain rewards. “I hope through positive parenting they've understood that it's cool to get the awesome items but you shouldn't chase those items. That's that gambling aspect,” he said. The point here is to not purchase 100 loot boxes just because you want to get an item.

2.     Restrict In-App Purchases

You can restrict in-app purchases with a password/or pin. Protect your passwords and unlink your credit card from the game or app store. Avoid sharing your credit card details with your child. Keep it to yourself. You can create a family account on the devices or consoles your children are using. You will able to request a purchase and authorize it.

3.     Explain the Advantages and Disadvantages of Microtransactions

Educate your child about the pros and cons of purchasing virtual goods. This should also include why in-app purchases are included in video games. Tell them to calculate the cost of a virtual item relative to their allowance, recommended Screentime Labs, a parental control app. Correlate the item with something they enjoy to help them understand that they are choosing immediate gratification over something they can use later on.

4.     Follow the Pocket Money System

Bryne asks his kids to explain why they want to purchase something from a game, as well as why it is worth the price. Since his kids save their own pocket money, they will be able to weigh their purchasing decisions intelligently and to stop and think before succumbing to impulse buying. You can also establish rules about what your child is allowed to buy and how much they can spend.  

Parents are in for the shock of their lives when they find out that their bank account was drained empty by an oblivious child. Children may not be aware that they are using real money when engaging in microtransactions. If your child suddenly becomes a whale, it’s time to sit down and have a conversation about microtransactions.