Last week we told the story of the family whose children emptied their parents’ bank account buying players in the video game Fifa.
It generated a big debate about whether parental controls are sufficient, how much responsibility lies with mum and dad – and the ethics of encouraging young players to spend money within games and apps.
Following the BBC’s report, deputy Labour leader Tom Watson tweeted calling for “tighter regulation” in gaming, saying there were “considerable fears that gaming is a gateway to gambling”.
This alarming case of children racking up huge debts on FIFA highlights considerable fears that gaming is a gateway to gambling, with boys and girls hooked in at ridiculously young ages by loot boxes. The case for tighter regulation is overwhelming.
Damian Collins, chair of the DCMS select committee, which is currently investigating technology and addiction, told the BBC he believes the issue is “a real problem”.
“I think there should be an obligation for the company to warn people about suspicious activity, like large increases in spending, just as banks warn their customers about unusual transactions,” he said. Here are some of the stories you shared with us.
My son spent £3,160 in one game
I have a 22 year-old disabled son, who has cerebral palsy, complex epilepsy, autism, learning difficulties and the approximate cognitive ability of a seven-year-old child.
He is unable to do any bilateral activities so relies heavily on his iPad and PlayStation for entertainment and educational activities. He has recently been playing a game on his iPad called Hidden Artifacts which involves finding various items and matching them to the description.
He has been charged £3160.58 between 18 February and 30 May 2019, clearing out his entire savings.
I contacted iTunes, who were extremely helpful but were unable to refund the amount and suggested I contact Blastworks Ltd, the app developer and game provider. [Under European rules, Apple users in the EU can request to cancel an order within 14 days of purchase].
I have phoned and emailed several times but have had no response. It is extremely distressing that vulnerable people, such as my son, become victims of what is thought to be an educational game. I have tried tirelessly to recoup his life savings but constantly come up against a brick wall.
Susie Breare, Hampshire
Basketball game cost our family £2,000
My 16-year-old son spent nearly £2,000 of my money on EA’s NBA basketball game. He used my bank card and I didn’t realise until I had a payment declined. He accessed the app via Google Play. EA made no response to me and Google Play has a disclaimer about kids using parents’ bank details without permission. My daughter had to use her university savings to pay the bill for this and it has caused huge damage to our family.
Our son spent £700 on Clash of Clans
This happened to us a few years ago when we were very new to all this. We are technically savvy but didn’t think to put a password on and my son, who was 12, ended up spending around £700. It was on his own phone and he managed to download Clash of Clans through a Google Play account, enter his own children’s bank card details and buy lots of in-game items.
We didn’t realise until we checked his bank statement and it was virtually empty. He did not realise the connection, that it was real money leaving his bank account. We never got our money back, apart from a token amount as a gesture of goodwill. Hmmm…it’s not as simple as parents should have known better, perhaps parental controls should also be stronger…I have my account tapped up every so often by an accidental purchase!24:27 PM – Jul 9, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacySee Mike Hall’s other TweetsReport
End of Twitter post by @Lazyeyeguy
My daughter installed the same game three times
My 11-year-old daughter has spent over £100 of my money in a day downloading apps that are the same. I had Google Play blocked from accessing money from my account but recently they changed settings that somehow allowed my girl to spend money unauthorised. I had to contact the fraud team on three occasions to get money back.
The games my daughter was installing were horse games and Minecraft. She installed the same game three times. I had no idea until I found my bank account was empty and checked my online statement. My daughter is now [using] a closed system back on a PS3. No fraud, no online grooming and no bullying.
I think all these add-on in-app type of things should become opted out by default (ideally banned but hey ho) and then it needs parental consent to opt-in/purchase. Sure there are controls there but not everyone understand them or is even aware them93:52 PM – Jul 9, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacySee Si Gillespie’s other TweetsReport
End of Twitter post by @SiGi1969
“He was completely inconsolable”
I installed Mini Golf King on my phone for my son who is five. He knows he’s not allowed to spend money in games, yet this game successfully tricked him into spending £300 on in-app purchases.
Fortunately, my card issuer blocked some of the transactions, but a purchase for £75 went through, along with a few smaller ones. When my son realised that he’d spent real money, he was completely inconsolable, saying he was so sorry for being naughty and he thought they were pretend coins.
My refund request via Google Play was automatically rejected. I explained that my son is autistic, and his disability makes him vulnerable (he doesn’t really understand the concept of being manipulated and he wouldn’t necessarily understand why people who make games want money). Google said I should contact Mini Golf King, which said it did not generally refund in-app purchases once the purchased items had been used.
It offered to delete the account and submit a refund case to the store from which the purchases had been made, but said this would be non-reversible. I have heard nothing since. People will say “well, you should be supervising him”. I was! I was in the room. But the game is a children’s game, rated PEGI 3 [suitable for players aged three and above].
I would allow him to watch a U-rated film and I assumed PEGI 3 games were safe to play with casual supervision. even I’ve been caught out, not by a huge amount (well £80) but it’s NOT as simple as “known better”45:32 PM – Jul 9, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacySee Brian B’s other TweetsReport
End of Twitter post by @brackb01
My boy spent almost £1,000 on Fortnite
When he was 15, my boy spent almost £1,000 on Fortnite. The issue was it was small cumulative amounts that don’t seem significant until you add them up over eight months. He doesn’t have Fortnite any more… and my car will be clean for the next 15 years!
Our daughter’s “free trial” cost £93
Last week my wife got a suspicious email from PayPal, £93 for some mobile app that takes a photo and converts it to a 3D emoji. I checked my online banking app and sure enough the money for a “free” trial had been taken.
It turned out my wife had left herself logged into Google Play on her old phone that she’d given to our youngest daughter, who had signed up for the free trial, which after a week expired and took the funds. Thankfully Google were very quick to refund the amount, within 30 minutes of raising the issue with them.
Damian Cox, Leicestershire
Google told the BBC that it advises parents to set up its Family Link tool. “This gives you the ability to set various types of permissions per person in the family,” said a spokesman. “For example, you can use password protection so that a password needs to be entered each time a purchase is made, including for in-app purchases billed by Google Play, like buying coins in games.”
The BBC also contacted Blastworks, EA, Mini Golf King and Supercell for comment. Games analyst Piers Harding-Rolls, from IHS Markit, said that 56% of consumer spending on games in the UK is forecast to be on micro-transactions, in-app purchases and paid downloadable content (outside of full games) in 2019.
“It is clear that there need to be safeguards for younger players,” he said. “Educating parents around controls that can be used on devices to help mitigate these incidents occurring, and awareness of age rating for content, is a good starting point. “I’d also like to see the industry self-regulate to do more to safeguard younger players and overuse of games.”
Find more information and support around supporting children with gaming