When I started blogging 10 years ago, buying games was so straightforward. You paid a single price for a box that either contained software for your computer or a new game for your gaming console. There was no risk of getting a surprise bill from your credit card company or an online store for additional purchases made while playing like there is today. In-game purchases are everywhere and as often as we try to talk to our kids about them and set parental controls accordingly, they can still happen.
Thankfully Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB)’s video game ratings will include a new in-game purchase notice on game packages so we’ll know if a game includes offers for players to purchase additional game content before we make the purchase. Smart, right? To know more, I reached out to Patricia Vance, President of ESRB to share her tips for setting boundaries to keep video games fun and balanced.
A guest post by Patricia Vance, President of Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB)
Once upon a time, a parent would go the store and buy a video game off the shelf and the fairy tale (or game in this case) would end there. Not any more. Today, to keep players engaged and double their fun, a game often continues to add a wide range of virtual content, such as new garb, levels or other items, that players can choose to download to enhance their game long after it was shipped to stores. While a living, breathing game definitely enhances the experience, parents need to be aware that in some, although not all cases, this extra content may require additional in-game purchases or, better said, may require them to open their wallet again. Fortunately, it will soon take only a few seconds for parents to find out whether their family’s newest favorite video game includes additional in-game purchases and another minute or two to activate settings to control any spending.
What to Look For
It’s always been important for parents to check the age and content rating assigned by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). ESRB ratings currently appear on all physical (“boxed”) games, as well as many digital and mobile games, and to help inform parents about the ability to purchase additional content, physical games will begin displaying a new In-Game Purchases notice (also known as an interactive element). Although already in use for digital and mobile games, in the near future this notice will begin to appear on video game packages near the age rating.
When assigned, the In-Game Purchases notice will inform parents that the game contains in-game offers for virtual goods or premiums that can be purchased either directly or indirectly using real world currency. While always optional, in-game purchases can include, bonus levels, character skins, surprise items (such as item packs, loot boxes, mystery awards), music, virtual coins and other forms of in-game currency, subscriptions, season passes and upgrades like to disable ads.
Setting Parental Controls
Video game consoles, handheld gaming devices, computers and mobile devices all feature settings or controls which parents can activate to help manage their kids’ use of games and apps. Depending on the device, parents can limit in-game purchases to a certain amount or block them altogether, manage how much time their kids spend playing games and prevent access to potentially inappropriate games based on their assigned age rating. More robust parental controls can even include a friends “whitelist” allowing parents to proactively approve with whom their child plays online. These controls are PIN, or password protected, so once you’ve activated them don’t share your password with your kids, unless you want them to circumvent the controls you have put in place! And don’t forget, if you are the account holder, you will always be notified that a purchase has been made so check your messages or email. For some more information on how ESRB ratings and parental controls can help parents set boundaries visit ParentalTools.org.
The best way for parents to know what their children are playing is to pick up a controller and try it out! That’s right—even for a lapsed gamer, or someone who’s never played a game before, there are plenty of fun, family-friendly experiences parents can share with their children. Not only is it a good excuse to have some fun, it’s a great opportunity for parents to engage in an ongoing conversation about the games their kids love to play.
I volunteer as an ESRB Parent Ambassador. No compensation was received for this post that was graciously provided by Pat Vance.