Kids spending real money on virtual goods

Posted on: 04/8/19 4:11 PM | by Jonathan McKee

“Mom, can I have $20?”

“Why? Do you want to go hang out with your friends?”

“Actually, I want to buy the ‘Cuddle Team Leader’ outfit for my character in Fortnite!”

Sound bizarre? Welcome to the monetary world of digital natives. And our game reviewer Naomi Norbez gives us a nice peek into the world of game-purchases in this special guest post (note: Noami has another helpful article on our parents’ page right now as well).

Budgeting for In-Game Purchases
By Naomi Norbez

Yes, kids still want to spend money on clothes and toys, but today these coveted purchases might just be virtual clothes and toys. With a growing number of video games—Overwatch, Fortnite, NBA 2K19, among many others—adding “in-game” purchases to their content, parents might want to know a little more about these in-game upgrades that today’s gamers love.

In-game items, known broadly as “microtransactions”, are purchased in video games not to gain a physical reward, but to give the player something inside the video game itself (such as an outfit or a gameplay upgrade). With microtransactions spreading to games with younger and younger audiences, it’s important to teach kids how to buy responsibly in the games they love.

So let’s go over some basic DOs and DON’Ts to share with your kids!

DON’T: Ignore the lure of “microtransactions”.
DO: Become familiar with the game—and it’s microtransaction currency.

It’s easy to dismiss this kind of things as “just a game”.  But games mean a lot to the people playing them—so it’s important not to diminish its value to your child. Talk about the game with them! Having at least a basic understanding of the games they love will mean a lot to them, and be educational to you.

Try this. Next time you see your kid playing their favorite game simply ask, “Can I try?” And play the game with them.

Most kids will enjoy Mom or Dad taking an interest in their world. Use this as an opportunity to connect with them doing something they enjoy.

In addition to playing with your kids, continue doing what you’re doing right now reading this article—learning more about the in-game currency that is used to buy microtransactions. These currencies are bought with real money, and it’s important to know how they convert. For example, Fortniteuses V-Bucks, with 100 V-Bucks being 1 dollar in the real world.  The most popular Fortnite items, in-game outfits, cost around 1,500 V-Bucks—15 dollars in the real world.

According to an article on GameRant, the average Fortnite player has spent $84.67 on the game. And most of those purchases are for cosmetic items, that don’t change how the game plays, but change how the character looks. So getting a basic understanding of the game’s microtransactions and currency will help you understand how much is being spent at once, and what the money goes to.

DON’T: Save your payment information in the game.
DO: Have your kids earn pre-purchased microtransactions.

A lot of websites give the option to save one’s credit or debit card information, to make purchases easier. It’s a good idea notto save your payment information for microtransaction purchases.


Do you want a surprise credit card bill because little Tyler went on a virtual shopping spree?

In-game microtransactions are designed to be compulsively bought. So saving your payment information might result in repeated purchases by your child, intentionally or not.  And while you can request refunds for most of these games, it’ll take a while to process.

To avoid this, you can get pre-purchased codes with a small amount of microtransaction currency.  Here’s one for Fortnite, for example.  Most games have this, and I strongly suggest using codes with small amounts, over putting your card information and potentially having your kid rack up a big game bill.

Which brings me to my last point. . .

DON’T: Shut down in-game purchases entirely.
DO: Use this as a learning opportunity for your kids.

With stories of kids spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on in-game purchases, your first instinct might be to not let your child make these purchases at all.  While there is some validity in that response, not only will your adverse reaction likely steer them more toward in-game purchases, it’s not a productive response for either of you in the long run.

Instead, I encourage you to use this as a learning opportunity for your child. How can you teach them about the value of money, or about wants vs needs, or about budgeting(to name a few examples) through their love for this game?

What do your kids love about their favorite game?

What dos and don’t do you have for in-game purchases?

Naomi is a video game reviewer for