Parent discovers the cost of ignoring Roblox: £2,500 and heart palpitations
10-year-old hacks family iPad and goes on in-game bling shopping spree
As if you needed another reason to change the subject whenever your child brings up Roblox, a 10-year-old girl has managed to spend over £2,500 ($3,113) on the online game.
For the blissfully ignorant, Roblox has similar clout among kids as Minecraft and Fortnite, but its unique selling point is that it enables users to program their own games which can then be played by others on the platform.
Like Fortnite, though, Roblox is "free to play," which is gaming industry for "we're going to bombard your children with microtransactions at every opportunity," mostly in the form of cosmetic items for players' avatars bought with a premium in-game currency called Robux – resulting in Roblox Corporation hoovering up $655 million in revenue for the three months ended March 31.
So parents who allow their offspring into the world of Roblox had best have their purse strings under strict control lest Little Timmy or Tammy go on a virtual shopping spree.
Georgina Munday of Dyserth in northeast Wales told the BBC she thought she had the family iPad locked down, initially believing her daughter's account had been broken into when she saw the heart-stopping amounts of cash leaving her bank account for Roblox Corporation's.
Not so – the savvy 10-year-old had actually managed to change the password on the iPad, enabling her to fritter away Robux like it was going out of style. Most transactions were made in drips of £20 ($24.91) until the grand total was hit and the deception discovered.
"We'd just seen hundreds of transactions, these payment confirmations, so then the panic set in – oh my gosh, whose card is this on?" said Munday.
As any parent would, Munday contacted both Apple and her bank to try to undo the damage, but was met with resistance. "I rang up Tesco Bank and they said, because it was my daughter, they couldn't do anything about it. So I tried Apple again – they just read me their terms and conditions."
Out of desperation, she contacted the BBC Radio 4 consumer program You and Yours. Within a day, Tesco Bank agreed to refund the full amount. It said: "We apologise to Ms Munday that this wasn't arranged for her when she first contacted us, and we've therefore also organised an additional payment to her as a gesture of goodwill."
Munday said her kid, who has autism, had been off school for some time due to difficulties with mainstream education and was using the iPad a lot more than usual. However, as much as Apple and Roblox love taking parents' money, both have a bunch of protections to stop kids driving their folks into bankruptcy.
Apple says children shouldn't be given passwords or Face/Touch ID access to iDevices and also has an Ask to Buy system whereby a parent has to approve a purchase. Roblox also has a "robust policy for processing refund requests [where] there may have been unauthorized payments from a person's account" and should probably have been the family's first port of call.
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"Parents also have access to a suite of Parental Controls that can be used to determine how much their children can spend, and set spend notifications to increase visibility over their children's spending on Roblox," the company said.
Of course the other option is to educate yourself and be very discerning about what games you allow your little ones to indulge in, particularly where microtransactions are involved and the real-world financial implications obfuscated behind premium currencies.
"She knew what she was doing; she changed the password but I don't think she understood the enormity of it," Munday said.
"Children are one step ahead of parents these days. We thought this Roblox game was quite innocent, it looks very basic. It's a whole world out there on this Roblox that we knew nothing about."
Access to computers also needs to be closely supervised. Forget not the "monster truck-obsessed" youngster who bought an actual monster truck on eBay for £19,000 ($23,667) using his father's laptop, which had been left logged in.
Compared to that, this girl's Roblox shopping spree is literal child's play – or 0.1315789473684211 monster trucks if you prefer to think in Reg Standards. ®