Neptune Navigate Blog

Tips for online safety, security, and responsible digital citizenship for parents, kids, and families.

The Price of In-Game Spending

August 26, 2021

When we were growing up, my cousins would go to the 7-Eleven every Saturday morning and spend their entire allowance on candy.  But once they had spent their money, they could buy nothing else. There was a good lesson in that because they learned to appreciate the value of a dollar.  It was tangible…in their hands…they could see it.  When the money was gone, no more candy. 

Kids today aren’t spending their money on candy at the 7-Eleven.  Instead, they are buying items to increase or improve their online gaming experience with their parents’ credit cards that are tied to that account.  Unfortunately, many parents are totally unaware of these transactions until they receive their monthly credit card statements.  And even though most of these charges are small individually, $5 or $7 dollars here….$20 or $30 dollars there, they do add up. 

These “microtransactions” seem innocuous at first, but quickly accumulate to rather large sums.  In 2017, as part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, Amazon refunded customers $70 million for unauthorized in-game purchases made by a child.  This past year, around $100 billion was spent globally on similar items for gaming purposes, which is evidence that our kids aren’t slowing down on their spending. While money is an issue, I think the bigger problem here is what this younger generation is learning, or more importantly, what they are NOT learning. 

When everything is virtual and anything can be bought with the click of a mouse, the consumer is less likely to consider the actual cost of the purchase.  Think about it, as adults, many of us do the same thing with our credit cards.  This is why so many adults go into debt so quickly.  When it seems like there is a limitless amount of funds, no one considers the fact that eventually, those funds will run out. 

So what options do parents have other than to stop all play or all spending?  An easy solution is to remove all credit cards and only allow your child to pay with gift cards. Once that card is depleted, they can’t spend anymore.  Another option is to find out what the spending restrictions are for the gaming console or mobile device your child is using.  Some consoles allow for parents to require a passkey before any purchases can be made.  Others allow parents to set spending limits or disable in-app purchases altogether.

No matter which route parents choose to take, it can’t be overlooked that this is a great opportunity for parents to teach their children about financial responsibility.  And quite honestly, by doing it in the context of something the child is heavily involved in, might just be the best way to do it!