He was so addicted to mobile game Hero Dream that he spent $15,000 on it in a year.
To make matters worse, he used his brother's credit card without his knowledge.
Michael (not his real name) got addicted after downloading the game to pass the time while serving national service in the infantry in 2013.
The game involves players trying to build their avatars through battles and quests, and although the game is free, the extras are not.
Virtual diamonds, bought with real money, are needed to get new heroes or better equipment and items to make the heroes stronger.
The cheapest deal was US$1.99 (S$2.65) for 120 diamonds and one of the priciest was US$99.99 (S$133) for 6,200 diamonds.
"The game had come out two months earlier and I was one of the few to start playing it," said Michael, 24, who is now an engineer.
The game sometimes offered special packages, where one could get more diamonds for the same cost.
"When I saw the special event top-ups, I just had to get them," said Michael, who started spending $1,000 to $2,000 a month on the game.
"The game has a ranking system and I wanted to stay in the ranking boards. I paid to gain more power."
When he used up his savings, Michael resorted to using his older brother's credit card without his knowledge.
"Initially, I used his credit card to make in-app purchases only once or twice.
"But when I got addicted, I continued using it," he admitted.
His brother, whose job requires him to travel often, noticed the extra charges on his card only after a year and flew into a rage.
"When he found out from his bills that I had spent so much, he gave me a yelling and I stopped after that," said Michael.
He still plays the game, but he has stopped making in-app purchases.
"I used to be in the first or third rank. But now that I've stopped buying diamonds, it is down to eighth," he said.
"I regret making the purchases. But what's done is done."
Now that he is working, he plans to repay his brother.
"I regret spending so much on the game and I don't think it was worth it.
"I have to think of my future, of saving up for a car and a home. That keeps me away."
GAMING ADDICTS NEED HELP
Excessive in-app purchases by their children are a concern among parents.
Mr Lam Wai Mun, senior counsellor at Touch Community Services' Youth Counselling Unit, said a mother at a cyber wellness parents' seminar produced a telco bill showing close to $10,000 spent on mobile games in a month.
"Her secondary school son was making in-game purchases billed through the telco services," said Mr Lam.
Touch Cyber Wellness sees pathological gamers who show aggressive behaviour towards their parents, lose motivation in studies and develop anti-social or withdrawn behaviour.
It supports 150 families and individuals annually through counselling and group intervention programmes for gaming addiction.
In the last 12 months, it saw a 10 per cent increase in counselling cases and calls handled by its helpline compared to the previous year.
Dr Carol Balhetchet, senior director for youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, said: "Once a child has gone into 'addiction mode', it's hard for parents to control them. They would need professional help.
"The feel-good factor and pleasure derived from winning rewards or beating someone in the game is a sensation they want to maintain for as long as they can.
"When you have an addiction, there is an overflowing of sensations. In order to stop it, the child has to be desensitised to the habit."
SIGNS OF CYBER ADDICTION
- Schoolwork suffers
- Restless or irritable when unable to continue gaming
- Unable to cut down on playing time
- Plays truant to pursue gaming activities
- Lies to family about gaming habits
- Thinks about gaming constantly
- Steals money to play games
Source: Touch Cyber Wellness
S'POREANS SPLURGE ON GAMES
Singapore tops the regional list of annual spending per player for games, a study by game-market research firm Newzoo found.
Last year, Singaporeans spent an average of US$189 (S$250) each on games across all platforms, reported The Straits Times.
This is despite it having the lowest percentage of mobile gamers who will pay for their fun, at 29 per cent.
Newzoo attributed the high level of spending to Singapore's high standard of living and strong economy.
The next highest-spending country was Malaysia, at US$33.
The report had examined gamers' spending and game revenues in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The figures considered all segments - mobile phones, tablet devices, casual web-games, consoles and PC games - and included all types of spending, such as in-app purchases and the full cost of buying an app or console game.
Globally, Japan tops the list at US$322, while Singapore is seventh.
Singapore's total game revenue last year (US$201.6 million) is less than that of Thailand (US$230.3 million) and Malaysia (US$214.2 million).
IT'S A MONEY GAME
TOP-GROSSING GAMES IN 2014:
Clash Of Clans
Puzzle & Dragons
Candy Crush Saga
$250 - Average amount spent by each Singaporean gamer on games across all platforms last year
US$201.6 million - Singapore's total game revenue last year
This article was first published on May 15, 2015.
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