When MBC covered news about a high school girl who spent 73 million won (~$61,242 USD) on mobile games, Koreans shocked to say the least. To make things worse, the student had used the insurance payout that she received from her mother’s death.
One day, the student’s father received a warning from her school that her tuition had not been paid for two months, so he paid a visit to the bank to check out what went wrong. He found out that his 17-year-old daughter had spent $61,242 on games.
She had downloaded a mobile game to play over summer vacation. While the strategy tank battle game was free to download and play for all ages, it offered “in-game events”, which highly resembled casino gambling games like those found on https://www.winningball.co.uk/ and required payment. This is becoming more and more common.
She fell victim to these in-game events and ended up charging her card tens of thousands of dollars.
To participate in these in-game events, the student used her debit card, which in the past was managed by her father. However, because her father was away so often on business trips, they agreed that she should hold on to the debit card to buy food, get school supplies, and pay tuition.
Her debit card account had around $100K in cash, from the insurance payout from when she lost her mother 15 years ago.
On her bank transaction history, her father found over 3,000 payments, prices ranging from as small as a dollar to hundreds of dollars. The payments were made to GOOGLE in the four months from August to November.
The total amount of purchases came out to be around 73 million KRW.
The student explained the game offers in-game purchase options in US dollars.
It only shows how much everything is in dollars. I didn’t know that I’d be getting charged so much.
— Student A
Her father, upon finding out what happened, took her to see a psychiatrist, rather than scold her for using the money.
I became worried that she may be addicted to games and have developed psychological problems because of what had happened to our family long ago.
— A’s Father
A’s father also sued the game developers for publishing a game as “Suitable for 12+” when the mini-games clearly resemble gambling.
Reports pointed out that while it is common for mobile games to use “in-game” options to incorporate mini-games or game item purchases, it is difficult for younger aged players to realize that their actions are costing large amounts of money.
It’s a known strategy for game developers to publish their games suitable for all ages or for teens, because it is easier to build a user pool this way. Then the developer updates the game with gambling mini-game options to maximize profit.
— Game developer
The South Korean Game Rating and Administration Committee claimed it is working on monitoring such game production companies to make sure problems like this do not occur, but no related regulations have been passed and enforcement of current regulations have yet to take place.