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The thrill of online gaming can be quite beguiling. Nothing beats the fulfilment that comes with advancing to the next level, unlocking new adventurous territories and being awarded with tokens to purchase weapons and tools for the next round.

Today’s kids want to play live online games, and these can wrack up your credit card if they aren’t closely monitored. So what should parents know when it comes to the financial implications of online gaming? How can you set up measures to manage the cost of data and in-app purchases? Tech Journalist, Sam Spiller and Founders of Tech Alley Pod share their tips.

The Impact of Lockdown On The Cost of Data

Bonga and Thabiso have observed that the most immediate impact has been an increase in data costs, not only just from gaming but also having an internet connection that enables working from home and other forms of entertainment like movie streaming sites. “Those who have not even been concerned about an internet connection at home now suddenly have had to know what the difference between the connection types are and guessing how much data they need which can be a daunting task”, they highlight.

“With a shift to remote working and increased online content consumption, households and people need to track how much data they are consuming for whatever they use it for. When it comes to parents tracking the games being played, the thing they need to watch out for, is the size of video games that are being downloaded. Some console games can be as big as 50 gigabytes and that’s an expensive amount of data”, says Sam.

Sam advises that what gamers, and families need to do, is game, work and watch using an uncapped internet connection. “Uncapped connections allow people to download and use as much data as they want for a flat monthly fee. What differentiates uncapped packages is the bandwidth speed at which the data flows”, he adds.

How Much Speed Do I Need For Online Gaming?

“As a general rule, any bandwidth speed of 10Mbps and above will be more than enough for anyone’s gaming needs”, says Sam. But let’s start by defining what ‘bandwidth’ is. 

Bonga and Thabiso define bandwidth essentially as a network’s ability to provide data to the devices connected to it within a given time frame. “In the case of internet connection, you can think of bandwidth as a high speed national road and a car as a connection to that network. When there is one car on the road, it can move faster and freely, but when you add more cars, they move slower with each car added on the road. The same applies with bandwidth and internet connection, the more devices, the less available bandwidth to provide a solid or stable connection”, they explain.

“The speed is measured in bits per second (bps) with many internet service providers offering bandwidth speeds of anything from 5 megabits per second (5Mbps) to well over 100Mbps”, says Sam. He also explains that the amount of bandwidth ideal for gaming mostly depends on the kind of games you play. “Your bandwidth speed determines how quickly a game will download and upload data”, he adds. 

Bonga and Thabiso recommend a minimum bandwidth of 10Mbps on a fibre connection with uncapped/unlimited fibre connection. “That is because gaming is an internet demanding activity which requires a solid connection and the experience would be frustrating if it were to be distracted by a loss in connection. The right amount is important because of that, and to meet the constant data needs of software updates and game downloads which can, at times, exceed more than 100GBs in a month for a gamer on a Playstation/Xbox or PC platform”, they highlight.

How Much Data Do I Actually Need For A Smooth Gaming Experience?

“For the best gaming experience online, whichever data package you choose, must be uncapped. This guarantees that there is no disruption at any point. Packages depend on your location, but the minimum recommendation is that you must get 10Mbps Download & Upload speeds on a fibre connection which typically starts from R400 from post providers. The higher the Mbps number (for both download and upload), the better the connection and ultimately the better the gaming experience,” Bonga and Thabiso explain.

Sam adds that if you are looking at signing up for an uncapped internet package, a bandwidth of 10Mbps is enough for someone to play games while others use the internet for other things. “The mileage of a fixed amount of data will vary according to the games you play. I know of one gamer whose 5GB of data gave him three weeks’ worth of Counter-Strike: Go”, explains Sam.

How Can I Manage How Much My Child Can Spend Online?

“There are several settings and parental controls available across gaming platforms that let you limit your child’s spending”, says Sam. He further explains that in-game currency may help in regulating their spending. “Giving them enough money to purchase a certain amount every month can teach them saving habits, in the same way pocket money does”, he advises. 

Bonga and Thabiso recommend that parents activate the feature of a password entered before completing any purchase. “The other way might be to have a separate card loaded on the platform with a set amount available in it for game purchases specifically. When those funds are depleted then the child has used up their allocated monthly allowance for gaming”, they advise.

“Speaking generally, it’s advisable that online gaming and in-game purchases must be treated in the same respect as any other kind of online shopping. Parents can create barriers to limit their child’s reach and always keep an eye on their spending”, Sam emphasises. 

How Safe Is It To Use Your Credit Card On Gaming Systems?

“The systems that sell these games online are built and owned by the respective companies who take immense care to ensure that the platforms are secure. They are just about as good as any other online shopping platform from a retailer in SA. If you can trust that retailer, you can trust these systems too”, explains Bonga and Thabiso. 

Sam further emphasises that when it comes to inputting credit card details in games, many video game platforms utilize the same technology as traditional online stores and that transactions are encrypted and require additional authentication from one’s bank, so long as you have activated them on your card.

“A Virtual Private Network (VPN) does not really apply to video games unless you are using one to buy games on online stores outside of South Africa”, he adds. 

In-App Purchases: How They Work?

Bonga and Thabiso explain that in-game currency is a way for game developers to get more income from the game that is beyond the initial purchase or stable revenue if the game is free. “It is used in a variety of ways including buying new lives to continue playing at a difficult level or buying new equipment that gives you an advantage over the next player in a competitive online gaming experience”, they add.

“In-game currency usually takes the forms of tokens that can be purchased within a game with real money. The most prolific example of this is V-Bucks in Fortnite” says Sam.

He also explains that in-game currency is traditionally used to unlock in-game items such as extra characters, costumes (also referred to as skins), weapons, and other customisation options. 

“Games will give players the option to buy set amounts of in-game currency for them to spend. It’s important to remember that once money has been converted into in-game currency, it cannot be converted back”, he adds.

How Can You Prevent Kids From Making Unauthorised In-App Purchases?

“Majority of the platforms have a feature that you can activate which would require you to enter a password to confirm a purchase even after the correct banking details are entered. If this password is only known by you then your child would not make the purchase without your knowledge”, Bonga and Thabiso explain.

Sam adds that many video game companies have introduced measures into games and gaming systems for parents to limit when and how much their children can spend. “For example, both the online stores on the PlayStation and Xbox game consoles feature parental controls that limit a child’s spending capability. Electronic Arts, the makers of games such as FIFA and Apex Legends, let you restrict purchases in their gaming apps on computers and mobile devices”, he highlights.

Wrapping Up

The lines between real money and digital currency can be unclear to children so it’s important that parents help their children understand the cost of their gaming activities. From this conversation with the tech experts, here are three ways you can gain control over your child’s gaming spend:

  1. Know what games they are playing – This can help you do some quick research on what these games require financially. 
  2. Cap their spend – Don’t underestimate the power of negotiation. Discuss and set up a limit of how much they can spend. 
  3. Protect parental control passwords – this helps you manage the restrictions and the spending on the games your child plays. 

Opt for an uncapped internet package – This will solve half your problems and enable a smooth gaming experience.