Video Games Make Kids Do Bad Things

Like spending thousands of dollars on a parent’s credit card on microtransactions.  The problem becomes is the issue of whether it is a parent’s fault for failing to monitor the child, teaching the child to know better, or setting up parental controls. Or is it the game developer who knows the psychology behind the hook? Or the console manufacturer who links one’s credit card to the user’s account?  Well, we may never find out, but it is the subject of Jeremy Hillman’s social media post.

Hillman’s son played Fifa 15,  a soccer game made by EA Sports which sold 2.66 million copies in 2014 in the UK alone (according to the ERA). The game features microtransactions. While controversial and typically frowned upon, in-app and in-game purchases are wildly successful.  It’s the reason you saw three “free-to-play” iPhone app commercial during this year’s Super Bowl.  There are many clever ways that game developers use in-game purchases, be it energy in Candy Crush or cooldown timers in Clash of ClansFifa 15 allows players to use actual money or in-game money to purchase groups of players, like virtual packs of baseball cards, but that once purchased, the player can use during game play.

According to Hillman’s post, his son attempted to purchase several “player packs” in Fifa 15 costing around $100 but allegedly had not received them.  After talking with Microsoft about a handful of $100 purchases, Hillman was asked to confirm numerous other  charges to the tune of $4,500.  Hillman admits that “[his son] became addicted to the game, spending $100 was as easy as clicking a button, there were no barriers, and it didn’t feel like real money even though it had a dollar sign on the screen.” Further, Hillman says he has taken responsibility for his part, which as I see it includes not understanding what his child was playing, not catching months worth of other charges, and not using the parental controls, among other parenting missteps.

However, Hillman wants Microsoft to be held accountable for failing to protect him from his son.  “If there’s a lawyer out there that wants to start a class-action against Microsoft and force them into compensation and adopting a better policy, I’ll happily sign up.” Hillman’s best idea is instituting a system like iTunes, where the user must enter a password every time he or she makes a purchase.  Alternatively, Hillman suggests that the console maker (not game developer or credit card company) should flag an account for suspicious behavior and require some confirmation, as “[b]anks and credit card companies regularly do this.”  I would think that people who have suffered overdraft fees as a result of boilerplate click-wrap may disagree, but I digress.

I regret that microtransactions exist and agree with many of the articles (just Google microtransactions ruining games) that contend they robbing games of the fun they initially offered.  However, they generate immense sums of money, and thus, they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  It will be interesting to see how parents, like Hillman, and companies, like Microsoft, will adapt to the inevitable future.