Written by John Perry

In 2019, MPs discussed the issue that an increasing amount of gamers, especially children, have experienced and are concerned over: micro-transactions. Or ‘in-game purchases’ as the industry refers to them, have been invading consumers’ homes via their chosen platform with no signs of slowing down. 

Governments are still debating if they need age restriction moderation for the gambling aspects or a firm ban put in place in the UK and US. So, should our House of Commons follow suit and ban them outright, just as Belgium has? They know how egregious and predatory these aspects can be to vulnerable people and swiftly stopped the issue. 

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‘In-game’ purchases help boost XP, give you extra weapons, outfits/cosmetics to brag about within social circles. These micro-transactions pose the question over cyber-bullying for children not being able to afford the latest ‘cool’ look or a new item in a game such as Fortnite and missing out on opportunities with friends in their digital playgrounds.

A recent extreme case shows how easy and misleading it can be to spend an extraordinary amount in a short period, where “one player spent over $150,000 on micro-transactions in a Transformers mobile game.” (Source: https://kotaku.com/someone-spent-over-150-000-in-microtransactions-on-a-t-1839040151/amp?fbclid=IwAR3Rlclkai_8egEdN95sy3veNe3BCJNiz_UGkfnSClSL4yFyuuAGgTPGfOQ)

You can place blame on the player, but why is a player allowed to spend such a mass amount? It’s ludicrous and problematic, to say the least, but to these companies such as EA, Ubisoft, and Epic it is simply a matter of making profit. They aim to appease their shareholders at any cost. If things don’t change, it’s their reputation as creators and publishers that will be tarnished.

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MPs in the UK parliament have spoken about the lack of transparency and honesty that in-game spending entails. The BBC recently reported on this situation, giving the topic enough publicity that the game rating board PEGI is having to look at overhauling game ratings to accommodate these digital gambling techniques. 

Susie Breare, a mother in Hampshire, reported to the BBC that her son spent over £3000+ without her knowledge or permission, emptying his savings account earlier this year.

“It is extremely distressing that vulnerable people, such as my son, become victims of what is thought to be an educational game,” she said. These loot box mechanics are designed to be predatory and form addictions, increase their profits at the expense of players. (Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/amp/technology-48925623?fbclid=IwAR0QZp888xKPzMGTzqEDpwPf1hSq5Kv1VFOvtyOYgtViPKK7RA4E7T7GX0s)

The argument raging across the internet and Parliament is that these companies responsible for the micro-transactions, create games to make a profit at the end of the day. It’s their creation, and they can introduce what they desire to make additional profits. It’s the player’s responsibility to spend sensibly. 

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It’s a case of labelling the game as having digital gambling so that players that have been diagnosed by the NHS with addictions relating to gaming, gambling, or both can avoid it. Also, banning it from children’s accounts, or games entirely, so that parents have peace of mind and show a total amount spent so players know when to stop. Small changes, but these could make a huge difference.