Online Gaming – Minding your wallet and your children

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The popularity of gaming platforms and consoles has been growing over the past few decades. Online gaming is quickly becoming the pastime option of choice for all age ranges. The industry is now considered to be double the size of TV, film and music combined. While gaming on a dedicated games console is still very popular, online gaming has moved onto mobile phones and tablets. With online gaming, children have the opportunity to play with their friends virtually. However, as technology evolves, the threat to financial risk increases. 

Let’s take a look…

In this week’s blog, we’re going to look at how this can affect your wallet and the potential financial risk to you. You may have innocently paid towards what you thought was a one-off cost, but that might only be the start of it. 

We’ve heard many stories from friends and clients about surprises appearing on credit card and bank statements. Liz, a MABS staff member,shared her experience as a parent about how a monthly gaming subscription affected her bank account balance. It was only small but added up over time. 

We’ve pulled together three simple steps to help you mind your pennies as we move out of lockdown. 

Some parents only found out that their child had made purchases without their consent or knowledge when the direct debit for the mortgage or other bills declined. Sometimes this can involve not just one item but a series of purchases or subscriptions. 

Although many games are free to play, some game platforms or developers require debit/credit cards/bank account details to access. Some other games include premium features that the player has to pay to access. This is sometimes called a freemium subscription. It is common for games software to be updated within the gaming industry and new content added at an extra cost, known as DLCs or downloadable content. 

Here are some of the top words to look out for when your child is talking about online games: 

  • Micro-transactions 

During game time, players can be offered items or perks using real money to enhance their gameplay or progress further in the game. These are called a micro-transaction to purchase extra characters, clothing, and weapons, for example. There can be peer pressure for kids to have their character look cool or have the latest/exclusive tools & weapons in these games. This is especially true if the gameplay is shared in real-time. 

Note – it’s important to have a conversation with your child about the risks of communal gameplay and online safety. Learn more here by visiting the WebWise Hub about online gaming. 

  • Loot boxes

Loot boxes unlock special features, characters or items in a game. However, they come with a fee, and the player has no idea what’s inside until they have paid. So, the player could receive the item they really wanted or something useless. Global concerns have been raised about loot boxes being like underage gambling and encouraging multiple purchases. 

  • Virtual game currencies

These include names like V-Books, Cherries, Doughnuts, coins. These currencies are purchased with real money for the player to buy items within the game. 

Children charities globally have raised concerns about online gaming and children not understanding that buying items in the game means they’re actually spending their parent’s money. 

There is also peer-pressure on children to feel the need to purchase items to fit in with their friends. They feel restricted and that the game isn’t as much fun if they don’t have the add-ons or particular items. Some call it the new age pester power, where children pester their parents to let them have full access to the game and the financial traps that might come with it. 


Refunds for children accidentally buying items depends on the term & conditions of the gaming platform or game developer. Sometimes, it is impossible to obtain a refund, even when parental controls were set up incorrectly. There are also cases of game developers limiting the number of refunds due to accidentally buying games/items. 

Tips to avoid accidental gaming purchases 

Parents need to educate themselves on controls that can be used on games/devices to avoid spending accidents. Some gaming platforms and developers provide advice and support to set up parental controls. These controls include passwords, spending limits, alerts for purchases, unlinking debit or credit cards, and bank accounts from their children’s devices. 

Parents should talk to their children about gaming, purchases during game time, explaining that real money is spent on these games in an age-appropriate manner. 

Turn the conversation into a learning opportunity. Learn about the games your children are playing and use the jargon they use. Take the opportunity to explain the value of money. Perhaps there are chores around the house that could be done in exchange for some pocket money, which could be put towards making purchases in a game. This might go some way to helping your child understand that money is not free but instead is earned. 

Should you find yourself in a similar situation, please contact the game provider/platform to seek a refund based on your child’s accidental purchase. You may have to speak to your own bank if the unplanned purchases have resulted in your direct debit or standing order being declined. Or if your current account went into a negative balance where you have no agreed overdraft facility set up. 

You can contact your local office here, call the MABS Helpline on 0818 07 2000, Monday to Friday, from 9am to 8pm, or on WhatsApp 086 035 3141.

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