Video game publishers are constantly experimenting with ways to earn additional revenue for the games they release. One of the most common methods we see them use is a model where the base game is free to play, but some features are locked behind purchases (that can vary in size). In many cases these purchases are small (some are a dollar or less). We call these Micro-transactions. Some of these purchases are quite large and can be more than a full-price console release. We call those macro-transactions.
The features hidden behind these transactions can be anything from experience boosts (that help players gain power faster) to cosmetic items that change the way a character, their weapons, or attacks look.
Sometimes though, these transactions include the ability to directly increase your character’s power and improve their chances of winning against other players who haven’t spent money. These are often called “Pay to Win” mechanics (or p2w) by the gaming community at large.
This is very common in mobile games, but can easily find its way into console games as well (it is just more rare). The gaming community at large is very quick to call out companies for including these types of mechanics in their games (you can look up the commentary on the launch of Star Wars Battlefront 2 if you want to see what some players said).
Most recently, these mechanics have found their way into the newly released Pokemon Unite. This is an interesting case because the Pokemon brand is incredibly strong with kids (and adults), and the game is free to start. This means it is very easy for our kids to get into the game and start playing with people who have spent a large sum of money to be more powerful than everyone else.
This isn’t a problem by itself as long as our kids are having fun, but p2w mechanics do create some situations we need to be careful of.
First, p2w mechanics encourage kids to want to spend money on the game. They do this because the more money they spend the more of a competitive advantage it gives them.This can help them win more matches, and will be especially important if they intend to play in the game’s ranked mode.
Second, it also means your kid is likely to come across a player who has spent a LOT of money in order to be as powerful as possible. This will make it difficult to complete against those players and can make it frustrating,
I think it is worth noting that this doesn’t mean these games can’t ever be fun, but we, as parents, do need to be vigilant and make sure we help our kids identify these mechanics and make good decisions.
The best way to do this is to ask our kids questions when they ask to spend money on a game (especially one that was free to begin with). We should ask them things like,
“What exactly are you buying?”
“What will that currency you are buying be used for?”
“Are you buying something that will make you stronger in the game?”
These types of questions will help your family make better decisions and will help your kids think about what they are doing. You can even have real discussions about whether or not these are the kinds of games they want to play. This will likely save you and your family time and money in the long run.
What do you think? Sound off in the comments and let us know your thoughts!
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