Billions of smartphone owners use their devices to play games. It’s a fun – and typically low-cost – hobby. However, gaming revenue is growing. Nearly a quarter of game developers use in-app purchases, also known as “microtransactions, to enable players to spend real-world currency on everything from new outfits for their avatar to extra lives. BBB offers tips to help you understand and manage in-app purchases when playing mobile games.
How to navigate in-app purchases on mobile games
- Know that some “free” apps may offer in-app purchases. Some gaming apps are technically free to play, but not making in-app purchases could hinder you from enjoying the game thoroughly. The game may set time limits on when players’ lives replenish or when you can access new levels or items unless you are willing to pay a small fee. The game is sometimes filled with advertisements unless you pay for the ad-free version. In other cases, apps offer cosmetic enhancements for a fee. These “skins” improve the game’s aesthetic but don’t technically affect how the game is played. Some of these revenue-generating techniques are controversial, especially when they target children.
- Check out paid apps with no in-app purchases. You might pay more upfront, but the ability to play forever without in-app purchases running up your credit card is usually cheaper in the long run.
- Research an app before you download it. Sometimes even paid apps offer in-app purchases while you play. App stores generally tell you upfront if an app offers in-app purchases on the description page. However, research how much gaming you can do without paying and how much 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 some in-app purchases when gaming, it’s a good idea to set limits for yourself and/or your family. Games may use manipulative techniques to increase sales, especially when targeting children. Having a set budget can help you and your family avoid falling into the trap of overspending.
- Talk to your kids about in-app purchases and set expectations. Reduce family stress by setting clear expectations about handling in-app purchases. Get to know the gaming apps they want to use and let them know upfront if you will allow them to make any in-app purchases. Make sure your kids understand if and when they can make purchases and their spending limits.
- Adjust the settings of your mobile device to prevent unwanted in-app purchases. You can limit your kids’ ability to make in-app purchases by disabling them or requiring a password to approve them. How you change the in-app purchase settings will vary depending on whether you use an Apple or Android device. These settings are an excellent way to control who can make in-app purchases.
For more information
For more information about keeping children safe online and in apps, please visit the BBB National Programs’ website and read about managing your child’s privacy online. If you encounter an app or other online service violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule, file an anonymous consumer complaint on CARU’s website.