In-game currency is so popular that it represents almost 50% of the gaming industry’s revenue. In this article we will help parents navigate the at times confusing world of games and this new phenomenon.
The gaming industry is rapidly changing and today games don’t just look different from their predecessors from ten years ago, they are also monetized differently. Game shops around town have started to shut down and games are now purchased online. Game developers are choosing to give their games away for free and instead charge for what is known as expansions or in-game currency.
An expansion pack is an addition or upgrade to your game. For mobile games that often entails paying to stop seeing ads in your game, and for computer or video games it involves new content. For example, a loyal The Sims player might choose to buy an expansion pack that includes new furniture or themes. Expansion packs often cost less than a full game, but the user needs the full game to access them.
Parents or grandparents have probably already heard terms like “V-bucks” or “Star Coins”. This is in-game currency, money that is connected to a certain game. You exchange real money for in-game currency, like markers at a casino. In-game currency cannot be exchanged for real money.
Most of us have encountered in-game currency in games such as Pokémon Go or Candy Crush. Users can buy new pokéballs, extra lives or spend it on skipping a tough level. Lately in-game currency has expanded to computer and video games as well. In-game currency is so popular that it represents almost 50% of the gaming industry’s revenue. In this article we will help parents navigate the at times confusing world of games and this new phenomenon.
Free-to-play, subscription or one-time payment
The gaming world is divided into three business models: free-to-play, subscription or one-time payments. One game can use a combination of the three to earn money.
A free-to-play game is free to download and play, but includes restrictions or purchases in the game. Usually the game has a premium version that can be purchases to unlock all functions, or it might include microtransactions, which will be discussed in detail later on, to earn money.
Examples of free-to-play games:
- Candy Crush
- Dota 2
Games with subscriptions have, as you might have guessed from the name, a monthly or yearly fee. It is common for online games like World of Warcraft to use subscriptions.
Examples of games with subscriptions
- World of Warcraft
- Final Fantasy XIV
- Dragon Quest X
This is the traditional way to purchase a game, you pay once for a copy of the game.
What can you use in-game currency for?
Microtransactions is an umbrella term for in-game purchases. They are becoming more and more popular in all types of games, but are mainly used in free-to-play and one-time payment games. In-game purchases can be divided up into three categories: cosmetics, loot crates and pay-to-win.
A cosmetic purchase can be a new design for your character, weapons or virtual cities. Games that sell cosmetic purchases often let you preview your new armour or clothing before you buy them. Cosmetic purchases don’t give you any advantages in the game.
Popular games that include cosmetic purchases
- Star Stable
- GTA 5
Pay-to-win is mainly used in mobile games. This means that the user can spend their own money to purchase advantages in the game, such as extra lives in Candy Crush or more pokéballs in Pokémon Go.
Popular games that include pay-to-win purchases
- Pokémon Go
- Candy Crush
- Dota 2
A loot crate or loot box is purchased with in-game currency and includes a set of random items, that can be either cosmetic or used to a player’s advantage. Loot crates have been receiving a lot of criticism lately, some consider them to be a lottery but not everybody agrees. A user that wants a specific object, for example their favourite armour, might need to open several crates to find what they are looking for. Loot crates in some games have been especially criticised for including advantageous rewards, for example FIFA Ultimate Team that allows players to spend money on cards with better players.
Popular games that include loot crates
- Star Wars: Battlefront II
Popular games and in-game currency
Many of today’s most popular games have different types of in-game currency, and if you have a child that plays any of these games you have probably heard these terms being thrown around before birthdays and Christmas. Here is a list of popular games and their in-game currency:
Fortnite - Vbucks
Roblox - Robux
Minecraft - Minecraft coins
Star Stable - Star Coins
FIFA - FUT Coins
Star Wars Battlefront II - Crystals and credits
Overwatch - Credits
DOTA 2 - Shards
Gifting in-game currency
Most games are tied to their respective platform stores, for example if your child has a Playstation 4 you would buy in-game currency directly in the Playstation Store, and if they have an Xbox you make your purchase in the Microsoft Store.
These stores offer gift cards that can be used for new games or in-game currency. Some platforms accept physical gift cards that can be purchased in shops.
Purchases for Xbox are made in the Microsoft Store.
Purchases for Playstation are made in the Playstation Store.
Purchases for Nintendo Switch are made in the Nintendo Store.
Purchases for iOS are made in the App Store.
Purchases for Android are made in the Play Store.
Purchases for computer games can vary, but they are often made in Steam.
5 tips for gifting in-game currency
Many children spend a lot of time playing their favourite games, and in-game currency plays a large role in most of today’s games. In short, in-game currency is here to say and when used correctly can allow your children to practice money management. Look at it like digital currency that lets children learn to manage their resources and learn the value of money. Here are five tips that parents can use to encourage responsible digital currency management.
Use in-game currency to teach your child about money
In online game stores, children can exchange their gift card for a new game or in-game currency. Don’t get caught up in specifics, like “Vbucks” or “Robux”, explain that the money can be used for a brand new game or a certain amount of Vbucks.
What are they getting for their money? It can vary from game to game! Most games employ their own pricing strategy, and the most desirable purchases are often the most expensive. For example, Dota 2 allows you to unlock new characters with “shards”, is it more fun to play with one expensive character than several cheaper ones?
Evaluate the relationships between time, money and wanting something
Many games allow users to earn in-game currency after playing for a certain amount of time, accomplished missions or won a match. Evaluate how long it will take to earn enough for a specific piece of armour, are they willing to put in the time and effort?
How much do they want this product? Is it worth the time, is it worth the cost?
Be critical of games that require purchases to advance
Games that require children to purchase new products to advance should be discussed, focus on the difference between real needs and forced needs. We recommend that children avoid these types of games. Have an open discussion about marketing tricks such as limited time offers and sales. We recommend avoiding purchasing in-game currency for games that include loot crates.
Use prepaid gift cards
If possible, avoid saving a bank card in a game store unless you have established clear rules regarding purchases. Use prepaid gift cards to keep track of your finances and encourage your child to spend responsibly.
Understand the game
Perhaps the most important tip of all. Understand your child’s favourite game! Learn how the game mechanics work, what the goal is, and how the game is monetised. Your child doesn’t have to be the one that explains it, take some time together and try playing the game or read about it on the developer’s website or in an online forum. Reddit is a social network that often has dedicated sub-forums for popular games. You can also find a lot of information on the website microtransactions.zone that collects the world’s most popular games and their different microtransactions.