What Parents Can Do To Better Manage Spending In Video Games

Patricia E Vance
May 17, 2018

Once upon a time, a parent would go to the store and buy a video game off the shelf and the story would end there. Not any more. Today, 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 purchased in a store. While a living, breathing game may enhance the experience, parents need to be aware that in some, although not all cases, this extra content requires additional in-game purchases. Fortunately, it will soon take only a few seconds to find out whether a new 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. To help inform parents about a game’s additional content, physical games will begin displaying an In-Game Purchases notice. 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 such as the option 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 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 they’ve been activated parents shouldn’t share the password with their kids. And as the account holder, a parent will always be notified with a purchase has been made via text messages or email. For more information on how to set parental controls visit ParentalTools.org.

Parental Involvement:

The best way for parents to know what their children are playing is to pick up a controller and try it out themselves. Video games can provide a fun, family-friendly experience for parents to 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.


This blog was previously published on educationandcareernews.com.


Written by

Patricia E Vance

As president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), Ms. Vance leads the non-profit, self-regulatory body for the video game industry in the United States, which includes the assignment of age ratings to video games and mobile apps, enforcement of marketing guidelines adopted by the video game industry and operating Privacy Certified, an FTC-sanctioned COPPA Safe Harbor privacy seal certification program. Ms. Vance is also the chairperson of the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC), a ground-breaking global rating and age classification system for digitally delivered games and apps that reflects the unique cultural differences among nations and regions.

Ms. Vance also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences and was appointed to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's Online Safety and Technology Working Group (OSTWG), which was established by Congress to make recommendations on the protection of children on the Internet through education, labeling and parental control technology.

Prior to joining the ESRB in 2002, Ms. Vance spent 18 years at Disney/ABC, with responsibility for the development of a broad range of new media and market initiatives. As Senior Vice President, General Manager of the ABC Internet Group, she oversaw the operations and strategic development of ABC-branded news and entertainment related web sites, and was also responsible for launching and/or managing several interactive entertainment and educational software publishing ventures, the direct response marketing of ABC programming and ABC's in-flight entertainment business.

Ms. Vance holds a B.A. in International Relations/Russian from Washington University in St. Louis, is the mother of two daughters and lives in New York, NY.