We’ve all heard the ‘funny’ stories about kids who accidentally rack up bills worth hundreds of dollars by making in-game purchases. In reality, these stories are not so funny at all and are indicative of a significant problem that exists in the gaming community.
Micro-transactions may seem like just a few dollars here and there, but the total cost can quickly add up. For those who have a gaming addiction, a couple of dollars can quickly turn into a game they can no longer afford to play.
What is a micro-transaction?
Generally speaking, a micro-transaction is any financial transaction you make that is outside the initial purchase of a game.
Some games are free to play while others require you to purchase a disk or download. Many people mistakenly assume that this is the only financial outlay of playing. In reality, micro-transactions can mean that the total cost of a game blows out to thousands and thousands of dollars — no, we’re not joking.
You probably know what a micro-transaction is, even if you haven’t ever heard of the term before. One of the most famous examples is the ‘V-bucks’ used in Fortnite. V-bucks are a virtual currency that enables players to purchase Battle Passes, emotes, outfits, and pickaxes to enhance the gameplay experience.
The easiest (and safest) way to get your hands on V-bucks is to purchase them using real-world money. 5000 v-bucks can be purchased for around $50 AUD and this is what is known as a micro-transaction.
The term ‘micro’ is a little misleading. $50 is no small amount of money and these transactions can quickly add up, particularly if they are being instigated by sneaky kids who have gotten hold of mum or dad’s credit card.
So, are they a bad thing?
Not necessarily. Micro-transactions means that many popular online games are completely free to download and play. Gamers have the option to upgrade their weapons, armoury, and characteristics using in-game purchases, but there is no obligation for them to do so.
However, as mentioned, the cost of micro-transactions can quickly add up. Psychologists are becoming increasingly concerned about the financial repercussions for those who are addicted to playing online games. Gamers who spend hours and hours a day in front of the screen often lose the ability to objectively see their addiction for what it is and have been known to justify their spending habits until they have completely burnt through their savings.
It is particularly important that parents of young gamers are aware of micro-transactions and talk to their children about kids online safety, and the risks and responsibilities of playing online games.
Threats to online gamers
Beyond micro-transactions, there exists a wide range of risks for those who play video games online. Gamers are often targeted by cybercriminals and the repercussions of their actions can be devastating.
Playing games online requires you to provide a significant level of personal information, including your name, date of birth, location, email address, and credit card details. In the wrong hands, this information can be used against you with significant consequences.
With that in mind, all online gamers should be sure to follow these security tips:
- Use strong, secure passwords: In some cases, passwords are the only thing standing between your personal information and the prying eyes of online criminals. Be sure to pick a strong and secure password made up of a combination of uppercase letters, lower case letters, numbers, and special characters. Never use the same password for multiple accounts and if you struggle to remember your passwords, try using a password manager.
- Set up 2 factor authentication: 2 factor authentication — or 2FA — adds an extra layer of security to your online accounts and should be set up whenever possible. Using 2FA means that you will have to provide an additional security code before logging into your account. This code is usually provided via text message or an authentication app. Should a cybercriminal somehow gain access to your username and password, they will still be prevented from logging into your gaming account.
- Exercise caution: While this is true for all online interactions, it’s particularly important when playing multiplayer games. You might think that your teammates are your friends but if you’ve never met them in real life, you can’t be sure that they’ve truly got your best interests at heart. Avoid revealing too much information about yourself and never pass on personal details such as your full name, date of birth, or location.
- Use security software: Online threats are fast evolving, but the same could be said of gamer antivirus security software. By using software designed to protect against the top security concerns faced by gamers — including viruses, malware, phishing, doxxing, DDoS attacks, and webcam hacking — you can play with confidence.
Aside from using gamer antivirus, be sure to talk to those close to you about the potential dangers of spending too much time and money playing online games, and the importance of having a healthy balance between the real and digital worlds. If you believe your child or someone close to you is spending too much time online, offer them support and speak to them about strategies they can implement to help curb their addiction.
Bridget is a writer and editor, currently living in Melbourne. She is a copywriter for Newpath Web and loves working with words of all shapes and sizes. When not playing around with punctuation and grammar, she enjoys travelling and curating her Spotify playlists.