Microtransactions have hit the headlines once again thanks to the UK Parliament, who recently debated the ethics behind in-game add-ons and loot boxes.
As part of Parliament’s report on “immersive and addictive technologies” [via Kotaku], it’s emerged just how far one gamer took his obsession with microtransactions within Jagex’s Runescape.
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The report speaks of “a member of the public whose adult son built up considerable debts, reported to be in excess of £50,000 [$62,000], through spending on microtransactions in British company Jagex’s online game RuneScape.”
The report then adds that this “caused significant financial harm for both the player and his parents.”
The unnamed party’s story highlights just how microtransactions can be seen as addictive, especially when it comes to loot boxes, which some countries have outlawed as being a form of unregulated gambling.
The report continues: “Jagex told us that it generates about one-third of its revenue from microtransactions, with two-thirds coming from an alternative subscription model. The company’s director of player experience Kelvin Plomer told us that players ‘can potentially spend up to £1,000 a week or £5,000 a month’ in RuneScape, but that only one player had hit that limit in the previous 12 months.
“The company’s reasoning for setting this limit seemed to stem from fraud prevention, rather than out of a duty of care to prevent people spending more than they are able. Jagex does allow players to ‘request deletion of the account or suspension of the account or a payment block’; however, crucially in the case of the parent who contacted us, for data protection reasons it can deal only with account holders and so was unable to take direct action in response to the parent’s concerns.”
Stories of people – especially children or vulnerable adults – overspending on microtransactions are now, sadly, very common. In some cases refunds have been issued by the likes of Xbox and iTunes, but that’s not a guaranteed success.
Some people believe that the deterrents put in place by games companies, including parental locks and controls, simply aren’t enough to stop people purchasing in-game add-ons.
Featured Image Credit: Jagex