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In-game purchases – microtransactions in games

2 minutes reading time
6-17 years
Eugene Chystiakov_unsplash

In-game purchases or microtransactions are a feature in many video games. They allow players to purchase virtual items, currencies or upgrades to enhance the gaming experience. We explain what to look out for.

What is it about?

In-game purchases or microtransactions in games refer to the purchase of virtual goods or currencies within a video game with real money. Players can purchase additional content such as cosmetic items, equipment, or progress accelerators to customize their gameplay experience or progress faster. These purchases are optional, but often cause controversy regarding cost, transparency, and impact on the game.

What fascinates children and young people about it?

Microtransactions address the needs of children and young people at different stages of development. In childhood, they are often fascinated by colorful cosmetic items that give their characters unique looks in the game. In the youth phase, they look for ways to give their players an advantage over others or to accelerate progress in the game. This can be achieved by buying in-game currency or power-ups. Many games also offer collectibles or rewards for buying certain packages, which can be very motivating for female players.

What can be problematic?

  • Cost trap: In-game purchases can lead to children and young people spending large sums on virtual goods without realizing how quickly the costs can add up.
  • Lack of transparency: often the costs and consequences of microtransactions are not clear, which can lead to disappointment or frustration when the acquired items do not meet expectations.
  • Pressure and potential for addiction: Purchasing virtual goods can trigger a form of reward in the brain, which can lead to an addiction where children and young people keep striving to make more purchases. Special sales strategies such as scarcity techniques and so-called special offers, which are only available for a limited time, can additionally support this.
  • Inappropriate content: Some microtransactions may contain content that is inappropriate or problematic for the age in question.
  • Data protection and privacy: When purchasing microtransactions, personal data must often be provided, which creates the possibility that this information will be misused or made available to unwanted third parties.
  • Social and psychological impact: Microtransactions can affect competition and the social fabric within the game by giving players an unfair advantage over others with financial resources.

How can parents deal with it?

Talk to your child about the concepts of money, budgeting, and the value of virtual goods. Explain that microtransactions cost real money and set spending limits together.

Make sure your child cannot have unfettered access to payment methods. For example, limit access to credit cards or use special prepaid cards for online purchases.

Check the settings in the respective games and platforms to activate age restrictions and parental controls. This can limit inappropriate content and uncontrolled spending.

Keep track of your child’s playtime and set appropriate limits together. Excessive use of video games can lead to increased susceptibility to impulse buying.

Find out about the game your child is playing. Check for microtransactions, read reviews, and pay attention to recommendations from other parents or professionals.

Encourage your children to play games that have no or limited microtransactions. There are many games that offer a fair gaming experience without the pressure to buy additional content. Often these topics can be addressed particularly well when playing together.

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