Microtransactions are a gold mine for developers, as Lance Perkins found out when his latest credit card statement displayed $7,625.88 worth of charges from Xbox Live.
Not only was the sum eye-watering, it was also the result of just a single month of playing games online. As the credit card statement showed, all of the nearly $8,000 came from microtransactions made for the popular soccer simulator, FIFA.
To answer an obvious question: no, Perkins is not a gamer, but his 17-year-old son is. This means that Perkins has zero ways to refuse paying up the solicited amount, even if he had nothing to do with it.
There are insidious ways in which developers trick gamers, young and old, into spending money to boost their gameplay experience. It should come as no surprise that young users are most vulnerable to the sneaky marketing strategies of game creators.
Perkins notes that his 17-year-old son was just as bewildered as he was when he saw the whopping bill. The young player apparently considered that he was making an in-game single-payment, and it never occurred to him that he might be charged for each login into the game.
"He's just as sick as I am, [because] he never believed he was being charged for every transaction, or every time he went onto the game," Perkins declared for CBC News.
Those who are unfamiliar with how microtransactions work should know that most gamers double-check before authorizing an in-game purchase using a credit card, so the son's innocence and gullibility is somewhat doubtful.
Perkins added that his son had access to the credit card to make purchases for the family and for emergency cases.
The father contacted his credit card company and conveyed what happened, but the only answer he got was that he could file a complaint against his son for fraud. Perkins then reached out to Xbox hoping to solve the issue. The company promised to look into it, considering how Perkins' son is not yet of legal age.
Using microtransactions, players may buy extra content - be it levels, features, weapons or experience enhancers. In the United States alone, some whopping credit card bills made the news after clients siphoned their accounts because of in-game purchases.
Not long ago, a 7-year-old topped $6,000 in Jurassic World microtransactions over the course of only one week. This was a happy case, as Apple took into account the very young age of the user and returned the money. However, Microsoft does not seem to be as lenient in Perkins' case.
Consoles, particularly Xbox, let users control their level of microtransactions, yet many parents are oblivious to this until it's too late. As a result, people such as Perkins end up rejecting the prospect of ever having gaming systems in their homes again.
"There will never be another Xbox system - or any gaming system - in my home," he promises.
Whether or not Perkins' son gulped the money out of the credit card knowingly, the case poses a more serious question. Should game and console companies keep a tab on surging microtransactions, especially when they happen over a short period of time?
They could take notes from the credit card companies' practices, which simply restrain purchases made a few towns away. So far, iTunes and Xbox look with benevolent relaxation at colossal online purchases, without triggering any alarm.
There is heated debate over the integrity of microtransactions. In E3 2015, some important developers announced that they're distancing themselves from the practice with titles like Forza, Hitman and Fallout. In a different context, public figure Kayne West also said that microtransactions should be abolished in children's games.
Xbox, meanwhile, hopes to counter overspending tendencies by advising parents to have distinct Xbox accounts for each user, and to create a strong password for those rare moments when you want to purchase items in-game. The console company also points out that rather than giving your child full access to the credit card, a viable alternative is offering the young person a gift card, thus limiting potential financial balance damages.
Seeing that in-game purchases already exist, we can only hope that gaming companies and platforms offer more options to control players' in-game expenditures.