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In-game and in-app purchases: when virtual gaming fun becomes expensive

Whether on the computer, via the app on the smartphone or on the game console: In-game purchases (or microtransactions) have established themselves as a business model for online games. Games via app on mobile devices are also referred to as in-app purchases.

The principle is often: During the game, users are repeatedly offered paid extensions. In-game purchases are marketed aggressively, especially in free games, as this is how the games are financed. However, additional in-game purchases are also becoming more and more common in paid titles. If you want to unlock additional game content, gamble faster, reach higher levels or get better or rarer equipment for the avatars, you have to pay real money in the game's own shop. These additional costs then arise regardless of whether it is a

  • from the beginning chargeable Game or
  • to be a first free Game acts.

The latter is known as “free-to-play” games - more on that later.

In-game purchases

In-game purchases are basically all purchases made during a game. Typical examples of in-game purchases are:

  • Points, coins, diamonds, raw materials, etc. (so-called in-game currency, which is used for subsequent purchases in the game and can lead to the fact that the overview of the costs is lost.)
  • New characters, skills, equipment, etc.
  • Faster successes, reaching a new level, shorter waiting times, etc.

You can usually make in-game purchases for real money within a shop that can be accessed via the game menu. In some cases, you can pay the costs for new game features, content or upgrades through a In-game currency settle - depending on the game and provider.

Investigation of in-game purchases

A current study of 14 online PC games * by the market watchdogs of the consumer associations shows that it is difficult for players and parents to find information on whether a game contains in-game purchases or not. None of the providers examined clearly indicated this on the game website before purchasing or before registering.

Information about the possibility of in-game purchases was either not available at all on the websites for online PC games (in 5 out of 14 games examined) or can only be found if interested parties already have previous knowledge of the game (9 out of 14 games) 14), for example if you know the name of the in-game currency.

That is also because it is currently no legal regulation that stipulates that game providers must indicate in advance whether a user can spend money. The pioneers here are game apps in the app stores of Apple and Google, as the store operators here at least stipulate the disclosure of the possible purchase options for in-game currency.
True, high In-game purchases made by minors without parental consent are legally invalid be. The investigation by the market watchdog experts shows, however, that the game providers refuse a refund in many cases.

In addition, there is no uniform age rating for the online PC games examined. Details on the investigation by the market watchdogs on online PC games can be found here.

Cost trap: free-to-play games

"Free-to-Play" games sound particularly tempting at first, because getting started with the game is not only quick and uncomplicated, but above all free. You can play the supposed free games both as browser games or installed on the computer, but also as apps on tablets or smartphones.

During the course of the game, you as a player will often be confronted with waiting times or other disadvantages compared to paying players. Additional paid game content can shorten the wait, increase competitiveness or just serve to show off to other players. You can get these goodies mainly through in-game or in-app purchases.

However, mere demo versions of games are also offered in the app stores. If you like them, you can then activate all functions via in-app purchase.

In-app purchases

In-app purchases refer to all purchases made during a game in a game app on a mobile device. Sometimes the buy button is placed in the center, sometimes windows open during the game that indicate the buy option. Often there are many small purchases that can add up to a large sum in the end. When payment data is stored on the smartphone or billed to the monthly mobile phone bill, shopping becomes particularly easy.

Especially when in-app purchases are necessary to advance in the game, the cost traps are designed. If virtual currencies are used, children and young people in particular will be obscured by the fact that they are spending real money.

How do you pay for in-game purchases?

In-game or in-app purchases are processed via user accounts or accounts in the respective app stores. In particular, credit card, account or mobile phone numbers are the keys to the transaction. Anyone who has saved their data there can complete the purchase quickly. If password protection is not activated on top of that, unintentional in-app purchases only need a tap of the finger. Alternatively, credit can also be topped up with prepaid cards.

Curbing Costs: Tips for Dealing with In-Game Purchases

Here are a few tips so that in-app and in-game purchases do not become an expensive cost trap:

  1. Check if it is possible before playing or the installation, whether in-game purchases are absolutely necessary to get ahead. In addition to the information on the game websites, reviews from other users can also help.
     
  2. Even if you don't invest real money in games, you can still reveal a lot of your information. Before downloading and installing, make sure which Permissions and data the respective provider requests for what purpose.
     
  3. Use prepaid vouchers (credit card as with a prepaid contract) and do not save any payment methods in the in-game shops or app stores.
     
  4. Prevent unintentional in-app purchases! To do this, you can additionally protect purchase processes with a password or deactivate them completely. The operating systems go different ways:
    At iOS from Apple you can completely deactivate in-app purchases. We explain how to do this step by step.
     
  5. Expensive ones Special numbers or you can send SMS for mobile devices through your mobile operator have it blocked.
     
  6. A Third party lockout protects against unwanted purchases being processed via the monthly mobile phone bill.
     
  7. You also have the option of restricting in-game purchases for computer or console games. Often you can do transactions secure with a password or a Guest profile for children and young people that prevents paid in-game purchases.

Video

Cyber ​​Security² - In-App Purchases
Video:

Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) / Consumer Advice Center NRW

This content was created by the joint editorial team in cooperation with the consumer centers Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia for the network of consumer centers in Germany.