Nara Ward says she has a full-time job: monitoring how much her kids spend on their favorite video games.
Ward lives in Barbados with her husband and their children, Finn, 14, and Leif, 12.
When Leif started playing Roblox, he started asking for robux, the in-game currency, which allows players to upgrade their character or buy virtual items. So his parents gave him $200 in credits Apple for Christmas.
“For my surprise, he spent it all in a matter of days. After that he didn’t give her more than US$10 in robux a month. He quickly got frustrated and bored with the game,” says Ward.
Leif then went to the video game World of Tankswhich also requires players to upgrade their weapons using PlayStation credit.
“However, this game has the option of watching ads for credit. Leif does it desperately once he’s spent his monthly allowance,” adds Ward.
This mother says that your youngest child has yet to learn self-control and be more conscious about money.
“It’s something I have to constantly monitor.”
a lucrative business
More than making money from the initial sale of a video game, many companies in the industry rely on sales generated by microtransactions or in-game purchases.
Purchased content can be cosmetic only: dance moves, different skin types, or clothing styles.
Although it can also provide tactical advantages such as extra lives, character upgrades or weapons that benefit them over players who have not spent money on additional content.
The global online market for microtransactions is expected to grow from US$67.940 million in 2022 to US$76.660 million in 2023.
However, there are signs of rejection among experts and consumers. Some companies are also promising new releases free of in-game purchases.
techniques to spend
According to Professor Sarah Mills, video game companies use psychology to manipulate users and encourage them to spend. The teacher adds that the link between gambling and betting is becoming “more blurred.”
Mills is Professor of Human Geography at Loughborough University in the UK. Her investigations have found betting techniques that make users play longer and spend more money.
Vicki Shotbolt, CEO of Parent Zone, an organization that helps parents navigate the digital world with their children, is more specific about how gaming encourages the use of money.
By spending, players can “avoid the grind”where making an in-game purchase means avoiding hours of monotonous gameplay to advance to another level.
The “funny pain” This is when you risk losing something important if you don’t make a purchase.
Meanwhile, the “obfuscation techniques”like in-game currencies, make it hard to see how much you’re actually spending.
Another tactic is use of “reward packs” (loot boxes). Players buy a package without knowing what is inside. It might contain a game-changing item, but more often than not the prize is nothing more than mediocre customization.
“Young people recognized feelings of shame when reflecting on the amount they spent trying to obtain a rare item, even if they were successful,” says Professor Mills.
And even though many kids say they don’t like buying in-game, spending money on microtransactions has become an expectation.
Video games as a benefit
While in-game spending has increased, some argue that video games can benefit young people And the fears are exaggerated.
It has been discovered that Games, as a hobby, relieve stress, help develop cognitive skills, and combat loneliness.
Zhenghua Yang, from Colorado, in the United States, spent two years in the hospital as a teenager.
“I’ve played a lot of video games. Single player makes me feel like a hero. Multiplayer connects me with other people. I’ve made lifelong friends all over the world,” says Young.
In 2014, Yang founded Serenity Forge, a video game company with a mission to help others. To date, more than 20 million people have played the games of this firm.
“Our business is to expand people’s horizons,” Yang says.
Serenity Forge doesn’t use microtransactions, but according to Yang, that could change in the future if they find that they contribute to “meaningful and emotionally impactful games that challenge the way you think.”
Yang thinks that the impact of microtransactions depends on the vulnerability of each user.
“Microtransactions can be dangerous in the same way as a credit card in an inappropriate context. However, credit cards can also play an important role, and in-game purchases can be relevant to a game. gamer who participates in his favorite game”.
Sarah Loya’s son, Andrew, he spends almost all his money on video gamesbut his mother says that it is not a problem and that it makes her happy.
“He plays every day, after school and on the weekends. I don’t see it as a negative. He’s a smart kid and he knows the difference between reality and fantasy.”
Loya lives in Texas with Andrew and his 6-year-old brother Rex.
“My bank account is linked to Andrew’s subscription, so I would see if he buys anything without permission. But he always asks me before buying,” says Loya, 43.
While it can be difficult for parents to control registered email addresses, passwords, and card payments across multiple platforms and devices, there are ways to protect teens and parents’ bank accounts.
Child accounts and parental controls they can be used to disable purchases or set a spending limit. Parents can set up email notifications to mark purchases and use gift cards instead of credit cards.
Although Yang says that maybe the most important thing is communication with the adolescent.
“In my experience, the friction arises from the lack of parental presence,” he says.
“Now I have two kids, and instead of using gaming as a childcare tool, I make sure I’m present in their lives as they consume their media.”
Back in Barbados, Ward has established screen time limits and passcodes so that Leif continues to play safely.
“You need my password to make any purchase and if you want money added to your account, you have to ask me. Microtransactions are annoying, but it’s a life lesson.”
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