Fortnite Battle Royale, like many other app-based games, is free to install, but it tempts players with in-app purchases for things like skins (the game’s lingo for outfits and for customising weapons).
Western Sydney University researcher and digital lifestyle expert Dr Joanne Orlando said it was important for parents to be aware of the tactics games like Fortnite used to encourage spending.
“Kids can buy things along the way that don’t necessarily improve their success in the game, but they influence the way they look and maybe their prestige in the game,” Dr Orlando said.
“So, in Fortnite they can buy skins to make them (their character in the game) and their weapons look better. Some are more expensive then others, and while you don’t need them, decorating your items has become a popular part of the game.”
She said friends and famous gamers such as Tyler Blevins, aka Ninja, on streaming platforms such as Twitch can influence children to buy more skins.
“One of many reasons why Fortnite is so popular, is that it continuously rolls out new and amazing skins for kids to buy,” Dr Orlando said.
“It’s a bit like us going fashion shopping and seeing the latest clothes you can buy – it can be thrilling and motivating.”
Dr Orlando said that, to her knowledge, there had not been any recent surveys or data to indicate how much on average children or parents were spending on in-app purchases, however she had come across some alarming anecdotal evidence.
A couple of years ago, Dr Orlando was discussing online games on talkback radio when a parent called in and said his seven-year-old child had spent about $1,000 on in-app purchases, including paying to be upgraded to new levels.
“The parent had no idea until they got the credit card bill and the child didn’t realise how much was being spent, because a number on the screen isn’t the same as holding cash,” she said.
“These things can happen particularly when your credit card details have been saved.”
She said it was crucial for parents to put in necessary financial protections and to be aware of how free mobile games make money.
How can you prevent accidental in-app purchases?
Here are some of Dr Orlando’s tips on what parents could do to prevent or reduce the chances of their children racking up bills on their credit cards.
- Be aware of your credit card set-up
Look at your credit card payments settings on your phone. You can change the settings so you get an email or SMS every time a purchase is made and also require a pass code or finger print ID before a purchase is approved.
- Buy a voucher
A bit like buying a Westfield voucher, there are digital gift cards such as Steam where parents can nominate an amount a child can use on in-app purchases. This can stop children from overspending or from making “sneaky purchases.”
- Educate yourself on how the game works
Use YouTube and Google to look for articles or reviews, not just from people playing the game, but also from parents – and look for information on what type of purchases can be made, along with how they can be made. Typically, there are also secondhand marketplaces for trading in-app purchases (like skins) that you may also want to be aware of.
- Set the rules
It may be worth sitting down with your child or children and set rules around how much they’re allowed to spend and what they can buy. Explaining to them why those rules exist and how those purchases cost you money may also help.
- Turn off in-app purchases
Another option can be turning off the ability to make in-app purchases. Parental control software can also block in-app purchases for specific (or all) apps, and can complement built-in parental controls in your smart device.