Age Verification - Online Gaming

It is estimated that nearly half of the world's population is involved in online gaming of some kind, many of whom are underaged. While the types of games that minors may participate in or be involved with might be quite harmless in and of themselves, many of these games are becoming increasingly monetized, which creates a financial threat to their parents. In addition, as Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMO's) become increasingly popular, it can expose even small children to an increasing number of threats. For that reason, most online games require age verification prior to playing and many even have set age limits.

At the moment, however, this age verification merely depends on the veracity of the player, who is simply required to enter their birthdate. If the player lies or enters their date of birth incorrectly, liability then lies with the player rather than the game manufacturer. With the number of threats rising in the world of online gaming, many governments and legislators are pushing for stronger methods of online gaming age verification. As reasonable as this might sound, however, there are a number of different complications this creates. Here is an overview of online gaming age verification; the reasons it is necessary as well as some of the obstacles keeping it from happening.

Why is Online Gaming Age Verification Necessary?

There are a number of different threats that online games may potentially expose minors to. Most MMO's have chat features that can potentially expose younger children and even teens to predators. Through online game chat features, predators may pose as younger players and even arrange meetings with young players. In addition, more and more online games offer paid features and are regularly linked to financial accounts. Not only does this require younger and younger children to be responsible with money and not make unauthorized purchases on their parent's accounts, but it can also expose them to fraudulent activities like phishing.

Gaming accounts in and of themselves can be worth a great deal of money. Even when the account itself isn't worth much, many of the items the player owns can be transferred to another account and sold online. This means that online gaming accounts have actual financial value and almost anything that has value is vulnerable to being stolen or used fraudulently. Account takeover or ATO is on the rise and it generally occurs through phishing. Adults may generally be savvy enough to not click on links in suspicious emails, but even adults can regularly be fooled. Teens may actually be savvier than adults in some cases, but younger children may be as yet unaware of the dangers of simply clicking on links, particularly when an adult is not around to supervise. As more and more children have their own email accounts, they are also more vulnerable to phishing attacks.

As if an increased vulnerability to predators, ATO's, phishing and financial fraud are not enough, many online games are intended for adults and can actually include both adult themes and even semi-pornographic material. Online casinos also exist where players gamble with actual money. Some online casinos are free casinos where no money is exchanged but more and more paying casinos are penetrating even US markets where they are still considered illegal.

Difficulties with Online Gaming Age Verification

Even if online gaming companies wanted to provide more stringent age verification requirements, the question of how to do so remains a challenge. In addition, doing so may actually create less safety for minors rather than more. Minors do not generally have any type of identification in the first place, which makes verifying their age or identity a challenge. The only way to create any form of age verification or authentication system would be to require adults to prove their age and verify their identity via a government-issued ID.

In an age where privacy is becoming more and more scarce, this is not likely to go over well with consumers. This, in turn, could actually cause serious financial harm to the online gaming industry. While fraud and various forms of identity theft are certainly costly, many players may rebel against the idea of having to provide concrete identification in order to play, which may prove to be even more costly that fraud. While many, if not most, online gaming establishments are enforcing more stringent login protocols such as stronger passwords and multi-factor authentication, this does not do a great deal to enable age verification, since minors are often authorized on their parent's accounts.

To even further complicate matters, identifying underaged players in any form or fashion may only serve to make them even more vulnerable to predators. The very anonymity of MMO's may serve as a type of protection in and of itself to minors. When adults have no idea whether the other players are adults or minors, this affords some level of protection to minors from being singled out. On the other hand, when adults have no idea they are communicating with minors, they may also expose minors to subjects and topics they may not yet be ready for.

Online Gaming Age Verification

As difficult as it may be sometimes, when children have so much online access in so many places, at this time the responsibility lies with parents to protect both themselves (and their financial information) as well as their children. While it is unfortunate that cybercriminals may gain access to a parent's financial accounts via their children, for the moment at least it is simply an unfortunate reality of the world we live in. Because so many online games are tied automatically to financial accounts, this also puts parents at risk of children racking up significant debt. Children may not understand that while the game is free, certain items or aspects of the game may incur a financial cost. Unfortunately, many parents are also unaware of this and often find out the hard way - when they receive the credit card statement.

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