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Free-to-play schemes come under Office of Fair Trading scrutiny

Friday, 12th April 2013 01:39 GMT By Brenna Hillier

The UK’s Office of Fair Trading is looking into whether some free-to-play games may cross the line into unlawful activity, and has contacted developers and publishers to issue warnings.

The regulatory body wouldn’t tell CVG which games and companies had drawn its ire, instead mentioning “companies offering free web or app-based games, seeking information on in-game marketing to children”.

The OFT is particularly hot on deciding whether free-to-play games are “misleading, commercially aggressive or otherwise unfair”.

“In particular, the OFT is looking into whether these games include ‘direct exhortations’ to children – a strong encouragement to make a purchase, or to do something that will necessitate making a purchase, or to persuade their parents or other adults to make a purchase for them,” a statement noted.

Direct exhortations (“buy now”) are illegal under the the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations Act of 2008.

Should the OFT find games in violation of this act, they will be asked to remove the offending elements. Persistent violators can be taken to court, and the OFT is even in touch with international regulators over the issue.

The OFT stressed that is isn’t looking to ban in-app purchases, but wants to protect kids and parents who feel pressured by games and apps they believed to be free.

Children spending via in-app purchases sparked a class-action lawsuit with hefty penalties for Apple, and a similar case was levelled against Facebook.

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11 Comments

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  1. Old MacDonald

    About bloody time. I hope the rest of the EU follows suit.

    #1 1 year ago
  2. GrimRita

    Yet again because parents wash their hands of taking responsibility,they want to pass the buck.

    Since the ‘Smurf berry’ fiasco, controls are tighter but its also down to parents to man up.

    If MTs are removed from these kind of games, it will probably destroy lots of smaller developers.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. Samoan Spider

    I’m sorry, this is clearly the parents fault. I am one if anyone wants to point out the error of my ways. But basically if you give a child something you don’t understand with a direct link to your credit or debit card, then you are the fool who has to live with the consequences. I lived next door to a guy who’s little’un spent over £100 in MT’s and you could hear him through the walls screaming at her about it. All I pointed out in a later conversation is, why did he put his card details in on the Apple account, instead of a pre-paid card with a nominal amount on it? Doesn’t even mean having to block it, but you give the child some responsibility and the life lesson of ‘when its gone its gone’ without affecting the whole household!

    #3 1 year ago
  4. Christopher Jack

    While I do think parents should take responsibility but I also thing there’s an issue of making it too easy for someone simply borrowing your phone to buy something, at the very absolute least you should be forced to enter your CVC every time just before you make a purchase.

    Surely that’s not too hard to implement & even for online markets where it’s likely that you’ll buy multiple things in one go, such as the App Store, at least have a checkout system where you can bundle it under the one payment so you don’t need to enter your CVC every time.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. DrDamn

    Agree with points about people needing to be more aware. However there are some serious points about exploitation here. One mentioned on the radio this morning was superficial items in some games targeted at kids but excessively priced. A example was something like a cute unicorn pet costing £70 as an in game transaction. That is exploitation of parents who aren’t aware of the issues. It’s targeted directly at kids and priced excessively specifically to make money from people in this way.

    #5 1 year ago
  6. silkvg247

    It’s not just kids. People are weak. I find some of the f2p models appalling in how they would entice the weaker willed to pay for pixels. It’s like buying a chair only to find the fourth leg is missing and needs unlocking which costs either 200 days of grinding, or £50. Or buy another chair (game).

    #6 1 year ago
  7. DSB

    @6 Fools and their money. I think that’s a job for the educational system, not for the law.

    Children are a different story though.

    #7 1 year ago
  8. deathm00n

    They will have to warn half of the games developers of android games. There hasn’t being one game in the last weeks that I downloaded and couldn’t get past some part of it because of MT

    #8 1 year ago
  9. AwesomeGus

    Am I the only one who noticed this is Australian money?

    #9 1 year ago
  10. Christopher Jack

    @9. No but I’m an Australian so it didn’t strike me as weird.

    #10 1 year ago
  11. Joe_Gamer

    Normally I’m a parents should be “parenting” kind of guy but since my daughter turned three I’ve started looking into kids games and it’s fucking disgusting how manipulative these games are.

    #11 1 year ago