Office of Fair Trading investigating whether free children’s app games pressure to buy

Alex Walls
April 12, 2013

The Office of Fair Trading will investigate whether free children’s app or web based games unfairly pressured or encouraged kids to purchase in-game.

In-game purchases included upgraded membership or virtual currency and the investigation would look at whether such games were misleading, commercially aggressive or otherwise unfair, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) said.

‘Freemium’ games, where certain levels or basic functions were free and players could pay for ‘premium’ access to higher levels, better equipment or more, are common in the App Store,

Gameloft UK and Ireland country manager David  Whitby told What Mobile in February that mobile gaming would see more growth from these freemium style games, a model Whitby expected to become dominant.

In particular, it would look at whether the games included strong encouragement to make a purchase, or to do something that would require making a purchase, or to persuade parents to a make a purchase for them, which was unlawful under the Consumer Protection Regulations, the OFT said.

It would also consider whether the full cost of such games was made clear from the beginning, which could put children and parents off were they aware of the full cost at the start of the purchasing process, it said.

As part of the investigation the office had written to companies offering such games, looking for information on in-game marketing to children, as well as asking parents and consumer groups, games developers and game hosting services for information.

OFT senior director for goods and consumers Cavendish Elithorn said the office was concerned that children and parents could be subject to unfair pressure to purchase in games they thought were free but which actually ran up costs.

‘The OFT is not seeking to ban in-game purchases, but the games industry must ensure it is complying with the relevant regulations so that children are protected. We are speaking to the industry and will take enforcement action if necessary.”

The OFT expected further developments by October this year, it said.




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