Trish Gilbert didn’t realize how much money her two sons were spending on digital goods in “Fortnite” during the pandemic until she reviewed her credit-card statements from last year to prepare for taxes. The total for 2020 came to $955.
“I was like, ‘How did this happen?’” said Ms. Gilbert, a product and marketing consultant in Mountain View, Calif. “I thought we had an agreement with our boys that if they were interested in buying something, they’d ask us. Clearly there were a number of times that the boys decided to buy something and did not come to mom and dad.”
Ms. Gilbert said that in the chaos of pandemic life, she and her husband became lax about monitoring their boys’ spending. They didn’t enable controls on their PlayStation 4 gaming consoles that would have prevented unapproved charges. Their sons, ages 10 and 12, were tapping their parents’ credit card to buy V-Bucks, the “Fortnite” currency used to buy skins and other items for their avatars.
The kids themselves didn’t even realize it. During a family talk, they guessed that they had spent between $200 and $300 on games. While the talk was helpful, Ms. Gilbert said, “We did change the account settings to ‘require password at checkout.’”
Kids were already spending a lot of money on digital goods before the pandemic. But with all the extra time kids spent on devices at home during the shutdown, those dollar amounts increased. In-game purchases on mobile devices, PCs and gaming consoles totaled about $100 billion globally last year, up nearly 18% from 2019, according to Michael Pachter, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities.