I am deeply concerned about the increasing prevalence of in-game purchases and the tactics used to coerce people into buying them.
These tactics include the use of ‘false scarcity’ to push people to buy immediately and act on the impulse of ‘get it before it is too late’. This psychological trick rushes players into making a decision without allowing them to properly analyse the offer.
The other tactic that stuck out to me was the use of social coercion. In some games, players are told that their friends have bought in-game purchases and suggests that they join them in making purchases. This manipulates the player’s desire not to be left out of their friend group and be the odd-one-out. Indeed the term ‘default’ has become a term of abuse in a growing number of schools, as children are peer-pressured into spending money on cosmetic in-game items.
Both of these tactics, and many more used by game developers, are manipulative, underhanded and predatory, with players being coerced into making multiple in-game purchases. However, I am particularly concerned about the effects that these tactics have on young people and people with gambling issues.
We have seen dozens of stories of children spending large amounts of their parents’ money without them or their parents knowing until it was too late. We have also heard sobering testimonies from people with gambling issues who have spiralled into debt because they became hooked on in-game purchases.
I have written to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nicky Morgan, and called on her to look deeper into this issue and take action to safeguard those who are being preyed upon. I have posted a copy of this letter below for your information.