If you’re a parent of a video gamer, you have likely taken notice of either your own or your child’s monthly bank statement or credit card tally showing in-game purchases. Some of these transactions are for smaller amounts, while others may be larger, but regardless, they can certainly start to add up to significant sums over a period of time.

Do you understand just what your child is actually purchasing? Have you asked yourself if these are a worthy investment and return on the dollars spent? Is it a frivolous and/or risky way of spending? Is it a form of gambling?

Much of what your gamer is buying are called microtransactions, which game developers employ to enhance the gaming experience. The microtransaction industry is now worth $76 billion, and is projected to reach $117 billion by the year 2027. So, this type of purchasing enticement is not going away.

Microtransactions incur  a massive amount of profit for companies. But is it really worth the spending for consumers?

Let’s break things down and understand exactly what your gamer is buying.

Cosmetic Items 

Cosmetic in-game purchases are purely aesthetic and do not impact gameplay. These items include skins, costumes, emotes, and other visual customizations that allow players to personalize their characters, weapons, or vehicles. While these items do not enhance the chances of winning, they can be seen as status symbols, creating the illusion that a heavily-costumed avatar or character must be a really good player.

Player and Clan Customization 

In certain multiplayer games, players can purchase options to customize their profiles or clan tags, allowing them to express their unique identities and affiliations.

Purchasing skins and clan customization in video games can have a negative impact as it can lead to overspending on purely cosmetic items, and potentially fueling addictive spending behaviour.

Loot Boxes 

Loot boxes are randomized containers that offer a chance to obtain a variety of in-game items, from cosmetics to gameplay-enhancing items. Players often purchase these in the hope of getting rare or exclusive items, but their randomness has raised concerns about gambling-like mechanics.

Loot boxes in video games work in a similar fashion as slot machines in casinos, involving players spending money to acquire a rare item only to instead accumulate many less desirable items. This type of spending creates a risk-reward dynamic that resembles traditional gambling, and has raised concerns about its potential for addiction and exploitation. 

DLC (Downloadable Content) 

DLC packs offer additional content, such as new storylines, maps, characters, or missions, expanding the game’s narrative and gameplay. Players purchase DLC to extend the longevity and depth of their gaming experience. Creating longevity in a video game can increase play for unhealthy, extended periods of time, increasing the chances for addiction for those at risk

The negative impact of purchasing DLC packs in video games can also include segmenting player communities, as those who can afford the additional content enjoy extended gameplay, while others may feel excluded or pressured to spend more to fully engage with the game. Players with less disposable income, who feel pressured to win, at any cost, may be at risk of stealing money or credit card information to make these purchases.

Virtual Currency 

Many games have their own virtual currencies, like V-Bucks (Fortnite) or Gold (World of Warcraft). Players can buy these currencies to purchase in-game items, pay for character upgrades, or unlock content; like buying poker chips at a casino. At times, players no longer see their virtual currency as real money, making it easier to risk using it up at a faster rate and more often.

Buying in-game currency can lead to gambling-like behaviour when players use real money to obtain currency and then gamble or risk it in games of chance, such as loot boxes, where the outcome is uncertain and potentially addictive, akin to traditional gambling activities.

Season Passes and Battle Passes 

Season passes grant access to a set of downloadable content over a specific time period, often including multiple DLCs, while battle passes are time-limited progression systems that allow players to unlock rewards by completing in-game tasks.

The negative impact of purchasing season and battle passes can manifest as increased pressure on players to commit substantial time and money to the game, potentially leading to gaming addiction, burnout, and financial strain.

Character or Vehicle Unlockables

In some games, players can purchase characters, weapons, or vehicles directly, often with real money. These items can have a significant impact on gameplay, making this a contentious form of in-game purchase in some cases.

Time-Saving Purchases 

There are games that offer the option to buy time-saving items, like experience boosters or in-game currency boosts, which allow players to progress faster or with less effort.

Consumable Items 

In-game purchases also include consumable items such as health potions, ammo, or energy boosts, which can provide immediate advantages in challenging situations.

Power-Ups and Boosts 

These purchases can enhance a player’s in-game abilities, skills, or attributes temporarily, providing a competitive advantage during gameplay.

Purchasing unlockables, time-saving items, time-saving purchases, and power-ups and boosts can be contentious as these items can create a divide between players who choose to invest money for convenience and those who prefer to invest time and effort to achieve in-game goals, potentially undermining the sense of fairness and accomplishment within the gaming community.

In-game purchases have reshaped the gaming industry and its revenue model, providing free-to-play games with opportunities to monetize, while also supplementing the income of traditional pay-to-play titles. 

As a parent, it’s important to be educated and wise to have conversations about potential risks with your child’s in-game spending.

Know your child. If you feel they can manage some online spending, be sure to discuss the value in creating a plan and a budget. Do not give your child your own credit card information. Instead, suggest to them that they use their own money to buy gift cards to reduce the risk of overspending.

The key for both game developers and players is to strike a balance that ensures a fair and enjoyable gaming experience, with in-game purchases that are neither overly predatory nor exploitative. 

As the world of gaming continues to evolve, the landscape of in-game purchases will undoubtedly evolve with it, offering even more diversity and choices for players. And with the right knowledge and a smart financial plan, your gamer can have an enjoyable online experience.