As readers of my recent Real Simple post about evaluating the appropriateness of video games will know, my son has become obsessed with the online game Wizard 101.

While I have been keeping an eye on the action, I have largely let my husband manage our son’s online gaming, including allowing him to use his real money to buy crowns within the game, which can then be used to buy virtual things including pets, spell upgrades, new wizard robes and access to special areas.

Little did I realize how much real money he was spending until recently when it was revealed to me that he had been allowed to spend $60 on crowns. $60 which was, it turns out, in addition to money he had already spent. If I had to guess, and I have to because there is no way I want to know how much he actually spent, I would say my son has spent $100 on Wizard 101.

With my husband’s participation.

Now if you listen to the show you will know that my husband is . . . economically conscientious. Since the day we bought our first Sandra Boynton book, a purchase my husband still believes was not a good buy based on a cost-per-word basis, he has tried to reign in our spendy ways.

So you can imagine my shock and dismay when I realized that the purchases of crowns was not done with a stolen credit card, but instead with my husband’s HELP.

His logic was that if he gave Anders enough crowns to buy “whatever he needed to finish the game” then our son would be able to manage the use of these crowns and not need to buy any more.

I’ll wait a minute while you recover from the laughter.

So now my son has 6 fancy wizard cloaks, 10 dragons and other little virtual critters, countless other virtual items, 36 crowns and a killer case of buyers remorse. It seems the only magic he really learned was how quickly he could make $100 disappear.

While I’m tempted to allow our son to continue to wallow – he’s been obsessed with purchases that might have been for nearly two weeks – my husband and I have come up with a strategy for allowing him to “earn back” the money he spent on Wizard 101. This decision was made, in part, because I’m still so gobsmacked that my husband allowed the purchase to be made in the first place, and think it’s probably a good lesson for all of us.

To earn back the credits, Anders will need to:

a) Sell back anything he can including cloaks, critters and other virtual purchases. For each 100 crowns he collects back he will earn real money. Additional money can be earned through time spent away from Wizard 101 (or any game) and by helping out around the house or reading.

b) He will not be allowed to spend any more crowns, and instead will be forced the play the game using only the items he gained without purchasing.

c) He won’t be playing alone. For the foreseeable future his father or I will be sitting next time him, helping him identify the places he may have spent crowns without knowing it.

Anyone want to buy a dragon?


23 Responses to An expensive lesson

  1. tela max says:

    I’m sorry, correct me if I’m wrong, but your husband was the guy who figured out the cost per pill on the medicine for cat,right???? Good grief! That all being said, I think your ‘fixit’ plan is a good one…
    good luck!

  2. Laura says:

    $100 = how many cat pills again? …funny story – thanks for sharing!

  3. pt says:

    LOL! Men… You’re closing line is hilarious!

  4. Kim says:

    Laura took my line! He’s lucky he still has an account. These stories are why I resisted the Wii for so long.

  5. Heidi says:

    That is a funny story. Can’t believe that he let him do it.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Definitelty a hard lesson for both of them but be thankful it wasn’t worse. When I upgraded to the iphone4, I gave my 8yo my old one for playing games. She had asked me in the past if we could buy stars, gold, gems, etc, so she could do more with her games but I told her absolutely not and explained why. Imagine our shock a few months later to find a $1200.00 Amex bill full of itunes charges. You read that correctly, TWELVE HUNDRED DOLLARS (lesson #2, don’t let kids know your password). The people at Itunes were awesome and waived the charges this one time only and my daughter did a months worth of moderate labor around the house. She was so upset and mortified when we explained that she had spent two months of grocery money that I doubt she’ll do anything like that ever again.

  7. Erin says:

    Hard to believe but I am speechless.

  8. Geli says:

    So funny!
    My boys like to play my iPod, and I have turned off the in-app purchase capability, otherwise I’m sure my 6yo would have bought helmets for his oranges already (“Cover Orange” – save oranges from damaging hail)…

  9. AnnKing says:

    I find these new (or are they?) online, interactive, pay-to-play-with-more games worrisome. They make me yearn for the old days when a kid had to actually go to a store to buy Magic or Pokemon cards with real money and then sit down with real people to play. The online game companies know a gold mine when they see it.

  10. AnnKing says:

    Kristin, your Real Simple blog post contains excellent advice.

  11. Oh, man! What a fantastic post. My 9 y.o. daughter is obsessed with Club Penguin, which is subscription based but at least she has to EARN the virtual goodies by playing games, trading with others, etc. – not spend real money. I just don’t get spending money on kids for something you don’t actually have/own/can see or listen to. Kind of a lesson in the horrors of credit cards and lessons learned by Wimpy… (“I’d gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today.”) Your husband deserves a reality smack, imho. Cue the “men are little boys” speech.

  12. Is there a general setting on the iPhone where you can turn off in-app purchase capability?

    I would love to know,


  13. Jen D. says:

    Holy bananas! That’s a lot of crowns. At least it wasn’t phone sex, right?

  14. Jolie says:

    Similar thing happened at our house with my 8 year old son got a gift card for $10, but he knew my iTunes password and spent about $30 before we figured it out. We changed our password and make the kids bring iPods to us for passwords now! Lesson learned.

  15. Natasha Bracken says:

    My kids wanted to play Wizard 101, but we have a Mac and it only plays on Windows based computers.. guess I got lucky on that one!

  16. Kat says:

    Ohhh boy! Or two boys in your case. Our kids know no passwords and must come to us to download anything. Even my laptop (courtesy of ManicMommies -yay!) is password protected. We’ve had other recent struggles with our 9 year old son on the computer involving “open chat” and online girlfriends! Ack! It is so easy to let the kids run free on the computer and takes so much work for us to monitor but it has to be done. As for Anders, I think I might let the money be lost as the lesson with future strict guidelines of course. I think you guys are being generous letting him earn it back.

  17. Cherie says:

    Even though my 4 yo girl has access to my iPad I made sure it’s password protected and the in App purchasing has been turned off and no passwords saved since she still doesn’t know not to push the adds in some of our (free) games. I’m dreading the day when she has more access to the computer and online games that try and sneak that ‘buy this rare item for in-game $ which costs real $’.

    But I agree with Kat, you guys are being generous letting him earn it back. I might let him only earn part of it. Like at Target, if you return something without a receipt you only get the amount that it’s currently worth.

  18. Amy J says:

    Janmary – yes, if you go into settings, then General and scroll down you’ll see Restrictions. Select Restrictions and you’ll get a whole list of things you can turn on/off, one of which is in-app purchases. When you enable a restriction (say, turn off in-app purchases) you’ll be asked to create a passcode. That code doesn’t lOck anything else on your phone – you just have enter it every time you want to enter/change the restrictions after that so nobody can change the settings w/o your permission ;). I locked in-app purchases on my own phone so I wouldn’t do it on accident and have locked out in-app purchases and installing apps on my DD’s iPods so they can’t accidentally spend my money either (not that they know my password, but I was nervous so this made me feel more secure – an extra layer of protection).

  19. […] in October, I wrote about an expensive lesson that my son and husband learned through Wizard101, a “massively multiplayer online […]

  20. Flarnikk says:

    For those in the know about Wizard 101 the deal you made was not a good one for a couple reasons. The premise is good but in practicality it dont work. You can not get crowns back at all. if you sell a item back that you bought with crowns, you get gold back not crowns. The exchange rate is laughable. It is comparable to buying something for a dollar and selling it back and getting pennies. Literally. I went through this with my daughter a few years ago. She was gifted with some crowns from a friend as were her older sister and myself. We all play and I keep an eye on them. Well my youngest who was about 9 at the time ended up spending her crowns on things like furniture and actually buying gold. You get gold by doing the adventure quests, but this was a quick way for her to get gold. She regrets it now of course as she ran out of crowns and gold and cannot buy access to any new areas.

  21. So, a bit of a necro-post here, I guess, heh.

    I think the real lesson here is that your husband learned how online games work. :-p

    I don’t know how often you allow your children to buy console games (Wii, Playstation, etc..) or if you allow that at all, but $60 is more or less the standard price for a brand-new console game. From that standpoint, it’s not really such an outrageous purchase. On top of that, Kings Isle regularly runs a special where you spend $60 (yup!) and you receive $80 worth of crowns. THAT’S why your husband did this thing that left you so “gobsmacked”, as you put it. :-p He thought he was getting a bargain (and he WAS getting a bargain from the standpoint of purchasing power in the game).

    The problem was really that he didn’t really understand how MMO’s work and he put control of the currency into the hands of an unsupervised child. Ha ha!

    You don’t do that with $60 worth of game store currency! :-p Heck, it’s hard enough to control impulse shopping when you’re an adult, speaking from experience. ;-)

    It sounds like you all learned some lessons from the experience. The important one to take away from it all is that MMO’s are not like console games. There isn’t any win condition. They’re designed to last forever or until the player finally gets tired and quits. You have to approach it as if it’s a hobby-type of activity and supervise it accordingly.

    Some things you really have to learn from the school of hard knocks. *laugh* I’m glad to see that you’re spending some time in the game with your son occasionally and seeing what he does and participating with him. For all of the so-called evils of these gaming hobbies, when they’re approached as something that a family does together, then they can be a bonding experience just like any other activity that you do together. Like everything else, you take away from it what you put into it.

  22. R says:

    Wizard 101 is a largely money eating game, it’s impossible to progress very far in the game without crowns!

  23. Shaydie says:

    He can’t sell his items back for crowns. Flarnikk is right, you will get in-game gold. There’s no way to get the money back and there’s a disclaimer on the site about it. The money is gone. And I don’t understand how he has 36 crowns in the game (to wear) because they’re just witch’s hats, helmets… I’ve maxed out my characters and there are no crowns to wear in the game.