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Office of Fair Trading posts in-app content guidelines, effective April 1

Thursday, 30th January 2014 09:00 GMT By Dave Cook

The UK’s Office of Fair Trading has reviewed the way games featuring in-app purchasing are marketed to children, and the commercial practices employed by developers. Published today, game developers must comply with the new principles effective April 1.

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In a statement provided by UKIE, the OFT’s eight guiding principles apply to what it calls, “online and app-based games,” and are geared to protect consumers where in-app purchases are involved.

UKIE CEO, Dr Jo Twist responded to the guidelines in an attached statement. “We identified the issues of responsible in-app purchasing in children’s games some time ago through our membership,” she began, “and we’ve been working closely with the OFT since they first announced their investigation to make sure that they heard from as many games businesses as possible.

“It’s important that we help both the OFT and games businesses understand how new business models should work within existing rules around consumer protection, advertising and marketing because companies want to and believe they are already doing the right thing by their players. Brand trust is paramount to them.”

However, in UKIE’s initial response to the guidelines – which are yet to be published – the group cited a lack of clarity in the rules, and their capacity to impact the way studios do business. It is unclear whether studios will have to radically overhaul the way they use in-app purchasing models, or simply introduce minor changes.

UKIE members have stressed that they believe themselves to be working within the law regarding in-app purchasing so far, and have not been fully briefed as to why this may not be the case. As a result, the legal basis of the OFT’s new principles is unclear, and whether or not companies are currently operating in means the OFT deems lawful is also up for debate. In short; more clarity on the precise rules is needed, says UKIE.

Twist continued, “We need to make sure we balance the opportunity and growth of innovative business models in the industry with sensible measures to protecting players. We are pleased to see the OFT recognise that parents need to be more aware of and use parental controls that are available on devices. Protecting consumers is a shared responsibility across those who make and sell games, as well as parents and carers.”

“Done responsibly, micro-transaction based business models give choice and value for both players and businesses. Flexibility for companies to operate different business models is crucial, and it is good to see the OFT recognise this. We will work with the OFT on briefing sessions for games companies to better understand the application of the principles.”

The OFT will hold a briefing for developers and other interested parties on February 20 to discuss the guidelines and to share feedback on how the new rules apply. Other events will be held outside London in due course.

What do you make of the state of in-app purchasing today? Let us know below.

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