A Very Real Life Market For Fictional Items
$3 Billion. That’s how much Epic Games, a company based in Cary, NC, reportedly grossed in profits in 2018. The tech company has not released revenue figures for its most popular game, Fortnite, but based on the number of monthly downloads (around 3 million) we can safely assume that this game has been a huge part of the company’s success. But here’s the catch, Fortnite Battle Royale is completely free to download. Profits come from in-game purchases of digital items like skins (outfits that you can dress your character in), dances (yeah, it’s exactly what it sounds like: dance moves), and tools or weapons. Epic Games and Fortnite are not alone; the market for online and in-game purchases is growing every year.
“So, the mobile gaming market is probably globally, probably about 125 to 140 billion, and here in the US, probably more like 75 to 80 billion. That’s mobile devices. And then if you take the home market which is the PS4, the Xbox One, The Switch, you’re probably looking at a 20 to 25 billion dollar market. And then you have a whole ‘nother market which is Steam for the PC user, which is around a 10 to 15 billion dollar market,” John McBride, owner of Game On, explained.
Taking into consideration that 29 percent of video game players in the U.S. are under the age of 18 and most likely do not have their own credit or debit card, the question now becomes how are these teenagers buying so much content online? and most importantly, how much permission do they really have?
“So for example, if you want to buy a hat for one of your characters, the game will take you to the online store. In there you choose which item to buy, and you checkout. The first time it will ask you for your mom’s credit card information, but once it’s saved to the account, it’s done. You can go back and purchase whatever you want,” Radio 101 reporter, Mack Hanna, explained.
Mack is referring to the PlayStation store where you can buy full games, extra levels for games you already own, or virtual currency. For example, V-bucks is the virtual currency for Fortnite Battle Royale. In order to buy any of the skins, dance moves or weapons, you first need to get the V-bucks in your account. One thousand V-bucks go for $9.99. A simple skin for your character is worth around 1,200 V-bucks. Here’s where things get a bit tricky. Let’s say that you realize that your child has spent 20,000 V-bucks on skins and dance moves (that’s about $200), and you want a refund. You can get Epic Games to refund you for the items, and the V-bucks would go back to your account, but they can’t refund the V-bucks. For that, you need to contact PlayStation, and according to their refund policy, if it has been more than 14 days since the date of purchase, items are non-refundable.
It is worth mentioning that both PlayStation and Xbox (two of the most popular gaming platforms) offer a “Parental Control” setting where parents can set up a monthly spending limit or indicate whether a certain user can even access the store. However, these “safeguards” do not come as standards. You have to set them up yourself which requires a certain level of comfort and technological prowess that not all parents possess.