Billions of smartphone owners use their devices to play games. It is a fun and generally inexpensive hobby. However, gaming revenue is increasing. Nearly a quarter of game developers use in-app purchases, also known as microtransactions, to let players spend real money on everything from new outfits for their avatar to extra lives. BBB has tips to help you understand and manage in-app purchases when playing mobile games.
How to navigate in-app purchases on mobile games:
• Be aware that some “free” apps may offer in-app purchases. Some game apps are technically free, but not making in-app purchases could prevent you from fully enjoying the game. The game may set time limits when players’ lives replenish or when you can access new levels or items, unless you’re willing to pay a small fee. The game is sometimes filled with ads, unless you pay for the ad-free version. In other cases, apps offer cosmetic upgrades for a fee. These “skins” improve the aesthetics of the game but do not technically affect the way the game is played. Some of these income-generating techniques are controversial, especially when they target children.
• Check out paid apps without in-app purchases. You might pay more up front, but the ability to play forever without in-app purchases using your credit card is usually cheaper in the long run.
• Search for an application before downloading it. Sometimes even paid apps offer in-app purchases while you play. App stores usually tell you in advance if an app offers in-app purchases on the description page. However, research how many games you can play without paying and how many in-app purchases will affect how you (or your kids) play the game.
• Set a budget and stick to it. If you decide to make in-app purchases while playing games, it’s a good idea to set limits for yourself and/or your family. Games can use manipulation techniques to increase sales, especially when targeting children. Having a fixed budget can help you and your family avoid falling into the trap of overspending.
• Talk to your kids about in-app purchases and set their expectations. Reduce family stress by setting clear expectations for managing in-app purchases. Get to know the game apps they want to use and let them know upfront if you allow them to make in-app purchases. Make sure your kids understand if and when they can make purchases and their spending limits.
• Adjust your mobile device settings to avoid unwanted in-app purchases. You can limit your children’s ability to make in-app purchases by disabling them or requiring a password to approve them. How you change in-app purchase settings depends on whether you’re using an Apple or Android device. These settings are a great way to control who can make in-app purchases.
Learn about mobile app scams and data privacy to stay safe while gaming on your mobile device. For more information about protecting children online and in apps, please visit the National BBB Program website at BBBprograms.org and read about managing your child’s privacy online. If you come across an app or other online service that violates the Children’s Online Privacy Shield Rule, file an anonymous consumer complaint on the CARU website.
If you spot a scam, whether or not you lost money, report it to BBB’s Scam Tracker at BBB.org/scamtracker and the FTC at reportfraud.ftc.gov. Your story can help other consumers avoid similar scams.
Rick Walz is the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving northern Indiana, which serves 23 counties. Contact the BBB at 800-552-4631 or visit www.bbb.org.