Interactive Software Federation of Europe

In-game Purchases

What are they?

New content, game functionality, features and/or upgrades for a particular game or app are offered regularly to users nowadays. If such purchases are made during gameplay, they are called in-game purchases (or in-app purchases on mobile devices), although they can also be made available as separate items in online stores outside of a game. In some cases, a player can make a purchase (a new item or an upgrade) directly with real money, and alternatively in other cases a player can purchase in-game virtual currency with real money that can in turn be redeemed for content during gameplay.

Examples of such in-game purchases include:

- Coins, points, diamonds, etc.: these are examples of in-game currency which can be redeemed for content, features, upgrades etc.
- Levels/maps: certain extra levels or areas inside a game’s universe may be unlocked via a digital purchase.
- Characters: new characters with varying skillsets can be acquired to play the same game again, each time with a different approach.
- Weapons/tools: a freemium game that can be downloaded for no charge may give a player a standard set of tools or weapons to progress in the game. Yet the game may offer other tools with extra functionality.
- Appearance upgrades: these are items – not necessarily functional – that can be worn by an avatar or be added to virtual belongings like cars, bikes or houses. Examples include all kinds of clothing, tattoos, jewelry, decals, numberplates, etc.

Why are they used?

Offering an initial small game with the option to expand it via extension packs and downloadable content enables developers to take risks with new game mechanics and new game titles without huge initial investment, investing in and building upon those that capture the public imagination.  This stimulates creativity in the industry; reduces the barriers to entry for new developers; promotes greater competition and offers consumers greater choice and a wider range of experiences.  It also enables players to buy only the parts of the game they want, to sample and enjoy a game for free before committing to purchase and to tailor their gameplay experience by purchasing extra content. Publishers can continually offer new content after the game is initially downloaded, thereby extending the experience for consumers who appreciate the game. In other cases, extra functionality allows a player to influence the game dynamic, by reducing the level of difficulty or by enhancing the impact of a player’s actions and abilities.

As with any online purchase, it is important for parents to understand how to control in-game purchases via the platforms and devices their children may be using. Many people in Europe enjoy games, with and without making in-game purchases. Platforms and online stores include various tools to empower consumers to make informed decisions, including on behalf of their children, and to control the settings relating to digital purchases, internet access, online interaction and other functionality, as shown below.

How to control in-game purchases:

  • Amazon: 

By activating the parental controls for in-app purchases, you must enter your account password or a specific PIN code to complete any in-app purchase in the Amazon Appstore on your device:

  • Apple iTunes Store: 

By enabling restrictions on a device, you can require a password for purchases, prevent certain types of purchases or disable purchasing entirely:

  • Google Play: 

Setting up password protection for the Google Play Store will help prevent accidental or unwanted purchases on your mobile device or on Android TV:

  • Microsoft:

By creating separate accounts for multiple users, parents can prevent unauthorised purchases on the Xbox One console. By creating a passkey, you make sure that other people cannot sign into your account, make purchases or change settings:

Windows Phone allows you to set up a Wallet PIN code to prevent accidental or unauthorized purchases. Moreover, by setting up a Kid’s Corner, you can control what applications a child can access on your phone and whether it can make in-app purchases:

  • Nintendo:

On Wii U, Nintendo 3DS or Nintendo 2DS, parents can restrict the use of credit cards and online purchasing through Nintendo’s Shopping Services. It requires the entry of the PIN code to add funds with a credit card or to complete purchases: 

  • Sony:

To ensure that a child does not make unauthorised purchases on devices which are connected to Playstation Network, parents should:
- Password protect their own master account to prevent unauthorised access by their child and ensure the "required password for checkout" setting is also in place to prevent purchasing even if the account is left logged in; and
- Create a sub-account for each child and set the parental controls to limit or prevent any spending on the parent's account: