Given the ease with which online games and gaming content can be bought, it is worth ensuring that every time you pay it happens securely. You don’t want to be exposed to future fraudulent activity or be at risk of spending inappropriately.
Ways to pay in online games
Credit and debit cards
Credit cards are one of the most secure payment methods, as they offer protection against fraud and theft. Some money experts suggest having separate cards for specific purposes, like online gaming. If you are defrauded, card details for household bills and other financial responsibilities are unaffected and it’s easier to monitor your balance.
Debit cards offer some fraud protection but are directly linked to your bank account. It may take a long time for lost money to be recouped, if at all.
Using payment services with online games
PayPal is the predominant intermediary digital payment service, and is widely accepted by online games stores. They can be a good choice if you intend to buy from different publishers, platforms, or sites.
Instead of providing each storefront with your card information each time, only the payment service provider retains your information. Your exposure to potential fraud is reduced if only one secure service has your payment details.
Prepaid store and gift cards
Branded physical and digital store cards afford a decent level of protection as they have a specified value and aren’t linked to a bank account. Although purchased with real money, the credit can only be spent in the designated store, up to the card’s face value. No personal information is stored on the card.
Proprietary prepaid cards are available for several online storefronts like Origin (owned by EA), Nintendo eShop, PlayStation Store and Microsoft Store (Xbox and PC).
Apple Pay and Google Pay offer similar benefits to payment services like PayPal. Once stored, payment details are in one secure place and can be used across multiple sites. It can be convenient to just tap dialogue boxes to complete transactions.
More likely to be the preserve of independent PC publishers, be wary of anyone requiring you to pay for something solely with cryptocurrency. As crypto funds are untraceable, there is a raised likelihood of a scam being presented as a legitimate purchase.
Online gaming payment models
It used to be the case that buying a game online meant paying for it outright, using a credit card. Increasingly, game developers and publishers have transitioned to requiring a base game purchase, supplemented by smaller online payments over a longer term to maximise revenue.
Sometimes the base game is offered for free, with revenue wholly coming from in-game transactions. This is often referred to as ‘free-to-play’ or ‘freemium’ gaming. Genshin Impact is a recent, popular example of this model.
Microtransaction is the term for in-game purchases, usually of small amounts of money. However, the term can apply to bundles of in-game currency as expensive as £99 and up.
The danger with microtransactions is that seemingly small amounts of money can quickly add up to large bills. Loot boxes are a form of microtransaction and have been linked to problem spending and gambling as well as encouraging addictive behaviours.
MMORPG style games like World of Warcraft or EVE Online commonly use a subscription model instead of a one-time purchase. Players tend to pay monthly for access to the game and their character within it. Often, discounts are offered if paying for multiple months at a time.
Subscription models work well for MMORPG games as the game worlds evolve in real time and gameplay is influenced by other players. This gives subscribers a reason to return.
However, the fear of missing out can encourage addictive patterns of play amongst susceptible gamers, leading some to continue spending each month regardless of their personal circumstances or budget.
Safe steps when paying for online games
Some general precautions you can take to keep your gaming experience enjoyable:
- Check the terms when making purchases to look for any immediate or future hidden charges so you’re not caught by surprise.
- Keep an eye out for any unusual activity associated with your account. If two-factor authentication is available, use it to keep your account protected.
- While less convenient, opting not to store payment details for future purchases can be a useful way to keep your card details away from potential hackers.
- You can use parental controls to protect younger gamers from predatory tactics designed to encourage compulsive purchases.
- Ensure that all communications with an online store or game admin team are genuine.
- Be wary of unlicensed mods, cheats, or pirated material as these are more likely to be scams. They may also contain hidden malware or viruses.
- Only buy legitimate, licensed content. People who sell high level characters, rare in-game content or high-level accounts have often obtained these illicitly.
Your gaming experience matters to us. If you need more advice on safer online activity, our blog contains a variety of useful posts – from cyberbullying prevention to avoiding motion sickness while gaming.