Kids Rack Up Huge Online Gaming Fees, Says Consumer Watchdog

Children are making huge credit card bills in Japan through online RPG

Online gaming companies have come under fire as a report from the National Consumer Affairs Centre of Japan announces that the fees charged for gathering items in MMORPG [massively multiplayer online role-playing games] have resulted in school-age children running up massive credit-card bills, often without fully realizing it. Or so they say. The problem is exacerbated by many of these games being played on portable devices, such as mobile phones.

Although the “complete gacha” [or, “kompu gacha”; collecting a series of items in order to obtain a rarer item in an online game] has been removed from online games, minors are still being charged considerable amounts of money in late fees and other charges. Consequently, the National Consumer Centre is considering stricter regulation of online gaming.

From Yahoo! Japan:

Even After the Restriction of “Kompu Gacha”, Online Gaming High Fees Continue; Middle School Students Spending 240, 000 Yen

The National Consumer Affairs Centre of Japan’s summary report shows trouble continuing among consumers of online games, which have begun to charge steep fees. Even after the restriction of the now-illegal “Complete Gacha” (“kompu gacha”), minors continue to be charged large fees without realizing it.

According to the Centre, inquiries relating to online gaming have been increasing, with 3501 cases in 2011, double the number dealt with in 2009. In 2012, 3107 cases had been reported by November 11th. In this period, there were 548 cases involving minors as contracting parties, just under 20%. Of these, over half were middle school students or younger. In May of last year, the Consumer Agency determined kompu gacha to be in violation of the law on unjustifiable premiums, and all companies in the sector discontinued them. However, problems with minors remained around the same level. The average amount spent was 160,000 yen ($1794) for elementary school pupils and 240,000 ($2691) for those in middle school.

The kompu gacha is now illegal in online Japanese gaming due to consumer law.

The now-defunct kompu gacha

Examples include a second year middle school student who used his parents’ credit card without permission and didn’t realize his portable game console was connected to the Internet, and an elementary school boy who said “I meant to play for free” when he was charged over 200,000 yen ($2242) in online gaming fees.

The centre has identified the following facets of the problem:
1. Adults don’t fully understand the equipment or the setup and various means of payment for online games
2. Children continue paying without understanding what it means
3. It is hard for gaming companies to determine their customers’ ages.

There are also cases of people entering into crime through online games. The case of three male middle school students who the Hokkaido police suspected to have been hacking into an online game for members of a social networking platform until December of last year has been referred to prosecutors for suspected violation of the law against unlawful access. The three boys are said to have used the game’s chat functions to collect people’s IDs and passwords, then infiltrated the game masquerading as other members. It is possible that they abused around 100 people’s IDs. “It must be made clear that the damage caused by unauthorized use of personal information and other people’s credit cards is not limited to games,” points out Taori Hiromu, who reports on the game industry. “You should share knowledge of games and the net at home. The game industry also provides alerts through reports and in-game screens, that there are unregulated things going on,” he says.

[Glossary] Complete Gacha: In online games, a mechanism where scarce items can be obtained by collecting a complete set of various types of item available through paid lotteries called ‘gacha’. Many users were spending tens or hundreds of thousand yen to reach completion, and in May of last year the Consumers Agency publicly announced that this was considered “cards combination”, a practice forbidden under the law on unjustifiable premiums. All gaming companies discontinued the service. The industry association has begun to draw up guidelines for safe usage.

Comments from Hatena:

wapa:

Seems like the recent problem of young people overspending on credit cards has even spread to young people who don’t have credit cards. It would be good if they abolished credit card and carrier payments and made things prepaid card only. Though it would make it less convenient.

naitawaratta:

Children who can’t pay should be sent to young offenders’ institutes. That’s education.

Mu_KuP:

You’ve got to think elementary and middle school students who say “I meant to play for free” are lying. And don’t give your credit card number to children. That is to say, it’s not just the children’s fault.

tfurukaw:

The parents are too ignorant. Don’t give things to kids that you don’t understand yourself. Besides which, things that need your credit card number…

Comments from 2ch.net:

名無しさん@13周年:

I think it would be better if the social gaming industry regulated itself properly. It’s so tightly controlled that if the government leaves it alone, it collapses. Same goes for consumer loans and dispatches.

名無しさん@13周年:

You’d think that if you’re the age to have children in elementary/middle school you’d know a bit about the web.

名無しさん@13周年:

240,000, huh? Even the old “packet death” [huge phone bills from mobile web access] wasn’t at that kind of level.

名無しさん@13周年:[in response to above]

When I was a student, my parent’s would have taken my phone away if I had packet death, so I was careful. Did the kids using their parents’ credit cards for gacha steal the cards from their parents’ wallets?

名無しさん@13周年:

If selling a 100 yen pot for 100 million yen is a scam, it’s just as much of a scam to sell kompu gacha for 100 yen.

海鮮あられ ◆y9GYQjntttnw :

It’s like they lifted the ban on elementary and middle school students playing pachinko w

名無しさん@13周年:

This isn’t the kind of problem where you can say “There’s nothing you can do about kids, it’s adults’ responsibility”. Because in one sense it’s like an illness for people who get hooked, and even if they’re adults, addicts will get addicted.
You can’t simply decide if it should be regulated or not, but the discussion ought to be had.

名無しさん@13周年:

Let’s ban gacha right away, isn’t paying hundreds of thousands of yen for an electronic image just stupid? Manipulating probabilities is easy, so it should be regulated.

名無しさん@13周年:

Wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy a 3DS or something and let them play with it? I really don’t get what’s so interesting about social games. Do you want to collect pictures?

名無しさん@13周年:

Is it better to make it over-18s like pachinko? They should just hurry up and ban both social games and pachinko and get it over with. It’s bad to be an addict, but it’s just as bad to know there are idiots getting hooked and leave them to it.

名無しさん@13周年:

Everyone is rich, right…
If there’s a registration fee, that’s an alert that you should be careful.
And then, afterwards it’s the parents’ problem.
Do they think they won’t get caught using their parents’ credit cards without permission?
And not just that, the kind that makes debt for the future.
In a way, it’s good this came to light while they’re still children, right?

名無しさん@13周年:

It would be better to ban it for under-20s.

名無しさん@13周年:

Gaming companies saying “It’s really more about adults money than kids’“ is a pack of lies. Basically, this kind of cheap gambling game is a trick that’s sucking children in. There are idiot adults too, of course, if they’re suckered into letting their credit cards be used now.

名無しさん@13周年:

He used his parents’ credit card while intending to play for free. Riiiiight. www.

名無しさん@13周年:

Why did such a heinous scam only just become against the law? Japanese gaming culture has been totally ruined.

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  • Paul M

    I absolutely hate these kinds of games. You buy a $50 game and then you have to pay a further $10 per month subscription to be able to play it online (not to mention paying for your ISP). Often these games are incomplete and full of bugs so the publisher releases expansions with patches which you again have to pay for. I have no sympathy for these companies when they complain about people pirating their software.

    • Jahar

      i love these kinds of games. Instead of paying $50 every 2 weeks to buy a new game because of the limited content, I pay $50 once a year plus $10 a month. The content is generally much more vast. You get to interact with people as well. You never have to pay for patches. Expansions are usually about half the price of the full version. Also, these games are not the ones getting pirated, the other games are. And, of course, the companies usually make both oonline games and offline games. Last but not least, you don’t seem to understand the way it works. They are notal talking about subscription-based games, they are talking about games that rely on micro-transactions.

    • Claire

      Jahar’s right about the piracy thing: apart from anything else, it’s pretty logistically difficult to pirate a MMORPG – it’s not just a case of making a copy of the software like it is for a standalone offline game. If it’s online and you have to connect to the game servers to play and to access the community aspects, you can’t just make a copy and run off with it, you need to be consistently connected to the legit game to play. You can hack the subscription system, but that’s harder and riskier than simply downloading a pirate copy of an offline game would be. MMORPG problems are mainly with fraud more than piracy as far as I’m aware.

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