Mobile games and in-app purchases

Coins in the air

A lot of people play mobile games. They can be a harmless, even constructive escape from the demands of everyday life but not all mobile games are created equally. From age restrictions to unexpected charges, we’re here to help you understand how people play on their phone.


Mobile games have become massively popular in the last decade. They can include a broad range of genres from mystery puzzles to role playing adventures. The majority of mobile games will be suitable for people of all ages and fun to play, but there are some that are aimed at a more mature audience.



Saving princesses and dressing up unicorns can seem like harmless, fictional adventures, but the cost of these mobile games are very real and can add up quickly. Most mobile games don’t have an upfront cost to download them. Instead, the majority of mobile games are supported by delivering advertisements while you play them.

Another common way developers recoup the costs of making the game is to include special content you can buy with real money. These are called in-app purchases. This might be an item for your character or extra chapters in the game.

A good way of spotting the difference between content that costs real money and content that uses fictional points earned in the game is to look for a dollar sign next to the price tag.

Other games have an upfront cost to play them. This will be the price you see on the App Store or Play Store when you first download them. Games with an upfront cost are less likely to have core functions of the game locked behind in-app purchases and might be cheaper in the long run.


Some of the other online safety challenges include:

  • Inappropriate content: Some games may not be age appropriate and may even contain violent or sexual images
  • Bullying and harassment: Some games allow for multiplayer modes allowing people to play together exposing people to potential bullying and abuse from other players
  • Addiction: Games are designed to keep you entertain, this can also mean they can become addictive to some people
  • Pay to play: Most mobile games are free to play initially, but some will also have charges that are introduced in the game. It can be very easy for players to inadvertently run up bills on these games
  • Complicated T&Cs: Before downloading a game it’s important to understand the terms and conditions and what data it will take from you


Here are a few helpful tips to ensure a safer experience:

  1. Block, report and mute people who troll or bully you in games
  2. Take short breaks if you’re gaming for a long time
  3. Don’t share personal information with people in games
  4. Avoid in-game purchases like loot boxes
  5. Check the age rating of any games you play

Content ratings

Each game is as unique as the stories they tell and this means that not every game will be suitable for all ages. Just like movies and television shows, mobile games have content ratings like G, PG and R18.  You can filter out games rated for older people by following the instructions linked below. You’ll need to know what kind of device they’re using first.

Tightening the purse strings

If you’re worried that you might be tempted to spend real money on in-app purchases and paid games you can lock them behind a password. Both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store support adding passwords for restricting purchases, you can find their guides for how to set these up below.

Google Play Store

  1. Open the Google Play Store app
  2. Tap Menu Settings
  3. Tap Require authentication for purchases
  4. Choose a setting
  5. Follow the on-screen instructions

The full guide from Google is available here.

Apple App Store

  1. Go to Settings > Screen Time, then tap Turn on Screen Time
  2. Tap Continue, then choose “This is My [device]” or “This is My Child’s [device]”
  3. Tap Content & Privacy Restrictions. If asked, enter your passcode, then turn on Content & Privacy
  4. Tap iTunes & App Store Purchases
  5. Tap In-app Purchases and set to Don’t Allow

The full guide from Apple is available here.


Most games will be enjoyable to kids and they will have fun playing them.  Encourage your child to play fairly and treat other gamers with respect. It’s also important you remind your child not to share personal details online or in their profiles. In the case of teens, it may be best to discuss the dangers of sharing information online.

Download games that are age appropriate and try them out for yourself.  It can be very easy for players to inadvertently run up bills on these games. To avoid this, parents should ensure that they have a password set on their phone/device for in-app purchases or that they switch off this option on the phone/device.

And just like any online safety issue, we know that having regular and open conversations with your children about what they are doing helps mitigate potential harm. It’s important to set boundaries with your kids, encourage your child to share with you if they have upsetting experiences and make sure they’re aware that any harassment, inappropriate language, bullying or hacking can be reported.

Our Online Safety Parent Toolkit is a great place to get parents and whānau talking about online safety. It outlines some of the main challenges young people face online and provides tips and advice on how to help your child.


If you’re concerned about the immediate safety of you or someone else, please call 111. If you want help or expert incident advice, you can contact us. Our service is free, non-judgemental and available seven days a week.


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