How much is too much when it comes to in-game purchases?

It may spark joy to you, but at what cost?

Han Xinyi

Still doesn’t understand how the kopi c, o, kosong system works.

Published: 24 May 2023, 6:01 PM

Growing up, I was taught to be frugal.

Be it on food or entertainment, my parents constantly reiterated that money does not “magically fall from the sky”, and neither should it be put into other’s hands recklessly.

This was especially directed toward my brother, who regularly spends money on online games. He bought his first game for $9.99 at age 13 using a Google Play gift card and has since progressed to paying for monthly subscriptions and in-game currency packs.

My parents, while not severely strict on his gaming endeavours, were not aware of the hundreds of dollars he was spending on games since they do not access his personal banking account.

It was only when they got ahold of my brother’s bank statements by chance that they realised he was splurging more than he should on multiple game-related transactions. He had earned $500 that month from his part-time job, and spent around $400 of it on games.

My parents were livid. In his disappointment, my father confiscated my brother’s laptop for a month and refused to give him any allowance until school started two months later in April.

In-game purchases have been around for many years now and are included in most games in the form of currency top-ups, equipment or cosmetic upgrades, and seasonal passes.

These are most commonly found in free-to-play games like Valorant and Genshin Impact as a means for its developers to profit.

While some forms of in-game purchases are upfront with players on what they will receive upon paying, some use predatory game designs to influence players to spend significant amounts.

Genshin Impact, for example, has a gacha-pulling system that does not guarantee a limited playable character or weapon until a specific margin is hit. Its mechanics are similar to loot boxes, which prey on players’ desire and desperation to obtain in-game items. They would often end up spending over more than one transaction just to get specific drops.


Most gacha games implement a pity system, which increases the probability of players getting premium items, further enticing players to spend more. PHOTO CREDIT: SCREENSHOT FROM GENSHIN IMPACT


This results in some people spending more on these online games to try their luck on getting certain in-game items, unknowingly participating in a form of “gambling”.

Some games also have areas that are barred from casual players unless they cash in, due to these areas either being literally locked or are too difficult to complete without the use of premium characters or equipment.

With such mechanics implemented into games, some players feel inclined to spend beyond their own means in order to continue playing and levelling up, with my brother as a case in point.

While overspending is a problem, I personally think responsible in-game purchases can be a form of retail therapy. 

The games can provide stress relief after a long day at work or at school. In-game purchases can also improve characters’ builds and visual appeal, which by extension boosts gaming experience and serotonin.

Of course, these spendings should be regulated.

My maximum monthly spending on online games reaches $22 for a subscription fee and a seasonal battle pass. While there have definitely been moments when I have been tempted to cash in a little more, I am reminded of my set budget.


No matter how appealing some in-game deals may be, it is not the end of the world if I do not score them. PHOTO CREDITS: SCREENSHOT FROM FALL GUYS


With cashless payments being the default transaction means for in-game purchases, gamers have little to no barriers when it comes to checking out.

One way to prevent overspending would be to set a spending limit. This can be done by either manually changing the spending limit on one’s card, or depositing a fixed amount into a gaming account and strictly abiding by that for in-game expenses.

Budgeting methods such as the 50-30-20 rule can be helpful guidelines. Half of one’s budget is dedicated towards essentials like food and transport, 30 per cent for things like in-game purchases or clothing, and 20 per cent is left for savings.

E-notifications can also be set up to inform users of every transaction. Each digital banking app provides this function where bank owners would immediately be alerted on their expenses via notifications or email.

Most importantly, gamers should try not to lean towards the “buy now, think later” ideology. 

While in-game purchases and premium equipment may spark joy, it does not take long for the feeling to dim and be replaced with guilt and regret over not controlling oneself before the transaction went through.

To find out more about saving and the risk of overspending, check out Youthopia’s financial literacy resources.

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