Micro-transactions are in game purchases like a funky looking weapon, extra playable areas, buffs to make the player better, new clothes, hats (yes you, Team Fortress 2), extra characters and other such stuff.
It’s always worth knowing about any involved in the game your child is playing as they might not know to select ‘NO’, when the game prompts them to buy that unicorn onesie for their character.
Micro-transactions are a legitimate way for a company to make money and fine if it is done in a responsible way. Sadly, some companies will exploit micro-transactions to make the game unfair or unplayable unless a purchase is made:
Game maker EA controversially allowed some of the main characters of a Star Wars™ game to be unlocked with money. Players could unlock the characters through time but you’d have to play the game like it was a second job to do so. This caused an uproar in the player community and has massively changed the way companies view micro-transactions.
Types of micro-transaction
These just change what the players character looks like in game like different clothes, funky designs for weapons and other flourishes of detail that set you apart from fellow players.
You can buy better equipment for your character to give them an edge over the game. This has been called ‘Pay to win’ by players. The unpopularity of pay to win is such that it is quite rare and pretty much non existent in online competitive games.
Sometimes a game will give you a number free levels then once you get to a certain level you will be blocked, or at least impeded from continuing as you were, with a purchase of some kind.
Sometimes a game will give you items (especially early in the game when you start playing) but usually they are unlocked via a transaction. A common form of unlock is a chest that you need to buy a key to open.
This is prominent in Counter Strike, a very popular FPS game with a global player base, where players can unlock ‘skins’ for their in game weapons. There are different rarities of skins and they can be sold for real money (many are over $100, some even over $1000!).
Random unlocks are gambling and you, the parent, should be aware if there are any in the game your child is playing.
Why micro-transactions can be bad
Depending on your child’s age they may be oblivious to these transactions. When the game asks them to click on a button to purchase they will not question whether or not they should. And if you haven’t set in place safeguards you’ll find your linked account being debited by the game.
The BBC has a great article on the risks involved: ‘My son spent £3,160 in one game’
How can you minimise the risk of micro-transactions?
Play the game
There is no better way to gauge what your kids are playing and find out if there are any micro-transactions involved.
PEGI Parental Controls
Go to PEGI ratings’ page that links you to online resources that guide you through setting up safeguards on your devices: https://pegi.info/parental-controls.
Sadly they don’t list PC or MAC.
For PCs I recommend that you set up a separate profile for your child to play on. Your child blindly confirming every little request asked by the system or a web site could quickly lead to problems. Restrain them by an account that is not able to carry out certain actions like installing new software. Also, any debit card, credit card or PayPal details will be linked to your account and not your child’s…