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“Free-to-play” shouldn’t include in-app purchases, says European Commission

Thursday, 27 February 2014 23:23 GMT By Brenna Hillier

The European Commission has begun talks with tech companies and authorities to crack down on misleadingly advertised “free” games and apps.

nickel_and_dime

“Consumers and in particular children need better protection against unexpected costs from in-app purchases,” European Commission consumer policy commissioner Neven Mimica said in a statement published on GamesIndustry.

“National enforcement authorities and the European Commission are discussing with industry how to address this issue which not only causes financial harm to consumers but can also put at stake the credibility of this very promising market. Coming up with concrete solutions as soon as possible will be a win-win for all.”

The two day talks were inspired by consumer complaints about in-app purchases in free-to-play games, and are intended to help all three groups arrive at a common understanding, but that any issues will be followed up with national authorities. The European Commission said consumers need greater protection, and said the term free-to-play is often misleading.

“The use of the word ‘free’ (or similar unequivocal terms) as such, and without any appropriate qualifications, should only be allowed for games which are indeed free in their entirety, or in other words which contain no possibility of making in-app purchases, not even on an optional basis,” the European Commission said in a statement of common positions.

In addition, the European Commission wants developers to cease using purchase prompts in games and apps targeted at children, to ensure explicit consent on any in-app purchases, and include direct email contact details for those with questions about the app ahead of download, use or purchase.

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9 Comments

  1. Luciferous

    Here is the thing with in-app purchases through F2P games, if everything in the game can be earned for free if you put the effort in, but you are also offered the chance to purchase those same items for real money then it is okay, but if the game deliberately locks content behind a pay wall then it is wrong.

    That is it – the actual purchasing of content is down to individual and parental responsibility.

    #1 1 year ago
  2. TheWulf

    I never saw what was wrong with the buy to play model, honestly. You buy a game, and then you play it. There are a few mobile games which have this model, and they’re the only ones I’m interested in, honestly. I recently played Detective Grimoire, which had this model, and that was a lovely experience.

    I do think that the freemium system, the in-app purchases, just serve to taint the waters… so to speak. I mean, you can’t tell a good game from a bad one any more, so it’s simply best to assume that all of them are bad. Though I do look out for games which have a set price and no in-app purchases. Yet even those have become a con, by patching in in-app purchases down the line and radically changing how the game plays to make those purchases a necessity.

    I’ve bought a couple of games that did that, and that’s something that seems like it should be illegal. It’s a bait-and-switch. There’s a lot of exploitation going on, here, and I’m not a fan of it. So I’m glad someone of authority is talking about this, because it needs to be talked about.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. TheWulf

    @1

    I disagree. For one important reason:

    [...] f everything in the game can be earned for free if you put the effort in [...]

    Emphasis is mine.

    So, okay, what’s effort? How do we fairly define that? Say, if the curve of a game allows you to play through thirteen screens in a week, but then raises the difficulty curve so grinding becomes necessary, is that not exploitation? That’s exactly what Candy Crush Saga does, and I think everyone knows how scum-sucking King is at this point.

    I think that the ‘effort’ here is just a bit of a buzzword people use to handwave exploitation. Should playing a fun game be effort? I don’t think that it should. If you get to a point where a game starts to feel like effort, rather than fun, why would you continue to play it for reasons other than you’ve become addicted to it?

    At what point does effort supersede fun? Now, the problem that one can have is that a game can pretend to be a skill-based game with a harshly increasing difficulty curve. It then convinces you that you wouldn’t have to put in so much effort in being ‘good’ if you just bought an in-app purchase just to give you that little bit of a boost. It’s a nice illusion. And an illusion it is.

    Without that in-app purchase, would you actually be able to get further with any amount of effort?

    These are the sorts of things that you don’t ask yourself when you’re sitting down with a game. You believe that you’re rewarding yourself with satisfaction by sticking it out with a hard game. But is it a hard game, or is it designed to be gated in such a way that it becomes near impossible for the average person unless in-app purchases are made?

    In this way, you can disguise a game to look like you’re just providing a shortcut to effort. And that’s what many do. Which is exactly the reason why it shouldn’t be tolerated. If a business like King can exploit you, they will exploit you. That’s a guarantee. Their only concern is how much money they can wring out of you before you realise what’s going on, before you understand just how much you’ve actually been preyed upon.

    And then the illusion is broken.

    However, for a sleepwalker who never questions their actions, it can take a due amount of time before the illusion is broken. And for that time, they’re paying in-app purchases to give them a little boost so that they can feel satisfied with their level of skill. Believing that their level of skill is almost enough, and that perhaps a better gamer could probably do it without the in-app purchases. (They couldn’t.)

    So effort in this case is an oxymoron, a faux pas of a misnomer.

    The quanitification of effort never occurs, but the belief that you have applied a degree of this allows you to feel superior and satisfied. But what happens when you quantify effort? What happens when you examine the game with in-app purchases versus without? What happens when you realise that the game almost plays itself with in-app purchases, but is nearly impossible without them, and is designed to be broken in that specific way to encourage the unobservant to part with their money?

    What then?

    Exploitation is rife on mobiles at the moment and it’s a sad state of affairs. That you’re actually buying the effort argument shows that you haven’t actually stopped to ask yourself questions about what effort is, and if in this content it even has any meaning.

    You should. It’s important.

    #3 1 year ago
  4. TheWulf

    And I understand that I might be making some people feel stupid for not realising this. I’m not sorry for that. Not even remotely. It’s not my fault if another person is too lazy to ask themselves the questions that I have, and as such haven’t even bothered to draw any conclusions as to whether they’re being exploited or not. It’s a common thing that a person can feel stupid when they’re just too lazy to ask questions that another person is asking for them.

    Of course, this can lead to misdirected anger. I’ve woken someone up, and they understand that exploitation is occurring, that they’ve wasted so much money on an experience that was designed purely to siphon money from them. So what then? Well, it’s a case of shoot the messenger, isn’t it? Once you’re so deep, it’s easy to get angry at the person who’s pointing out your folly. This is the emperor’s clothes, through and through.

    I’m pointing out that you’re naked in front of a crowd. Well, naked of money that you could have spent on better things, anyway.

    But then, perhaps in the future, you’ll think twice before putting so much money into one of these exploitative schemes. They’re no different than the pyramid schemes of yore, or the phishing emails, and people used to fall for those, too. If someone promised you a large sum of money for your bank details, well, there were a lot of people who handed over those details without even stopping to question the validity of this action, and whether they were being conned.

    Most people are oblivious to cons, which is why snake oil salesmen are so successful at their jobs. It can take months and months before the majority catch up with what the minority are telling them, and then the bottom falls out of the scheme, there’s no more money, so these weasels go off looking for their next scheme, for their next mark.

    And all you ever were was a victim. A victim who might have actually defended what they were doing to you.

    So keep that in mind.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. POOhead

    @2 i dont mind that either but most apps go out there way and charge you well more then a retail for something crappy such as 1m gold, and the same for another currency, although i dont mind them for games where you have to build stuff and then pay to build them faster since there easier to glitch.

    #5 1 year ago
  6. Michael Ireland

    Any laws that clamp down on this sort of stuff can only be a good thing.

    #6 1 year ago
  7. salarta

    I don’t think it has to go so far that absolutely no things can be purchased through a free-to-play game, but companies are definitely trying their best to abuse the free-to-play model. The main problem isn’t that the ability to pay for things in the game exists, but the combination of dishonesty with consumers and withholding content from consumers after the fact that’s the problem.

    Here’s the current treatment of free-to-play games, in the form of a car purchase.

    One car salesman presents their cars by presenting ALL of the features the car provides, encourages you to sign the contract… and only after you sign the contract and start using it do you find out that a lot of those awesome features you thought you would get are only available if you pay more money.

    Another scenario is that the salesman does NOT present all the features up front, only the ones that come standard, which is at least being partly honest. But then, once you start the car and drive it around, you find out that there’s an artificial limit on how cold the air conditioning can get. It’s sweltering outside, you’re uncomfortable, but the only way you’re getting anything more is if you pay money nobody ever told you that you’d have to pay if you want to actually have any kind of comfort with your car.

    The third and final scenario, at least that I can think of, straddles the line of both. The salesman tells you everything about the car up-front, from what comes standard to what you can get if you’re willing to pay more, before you have to invest or sign anything. You like the car good enough, so you do in fact sign for it. But, there’s one problem they either didn’t tell you about, or seriously downplayed: they built systems into the car to nag you about the features you’re not getting at every opportunity. Start the air conditioner? “Remember, if you pay more, we’ll let you have colder air.” Music’s too quiet? “Get a premium account and we’ll let you have a higher volume limit!” And that’s just situational, some games have the equivalent of a car chiming in every 1-5 miles with “Get a premium account and we’ll give you better gas mileage!”

    That’s essentially what many companies are doing with F2P games: lying about free content, artificially withholding content that has no business being a separate cost, and shoving the fact the consumer doesn’t have everything unless they pay for it in their faces every five seconds.

    Those problems have killed my interest in F2P games multiple times. I don’t mind if there are a few content packs made later on that cost money, but if my ability to level up is made artificially slower, I’m denied access to important gameplay mechanics, or I have to suffer through an endless barrage of advertising of the game’s pay features just to play it, then I’m not going to want to play it.

    #7 1 year ago
  8. ij 44

    Good ol’ Eu sticking a spanner in the works.

    I have had enough american consumer bullshit for a lifetime, where “free” means pay, and where someone trying to sell something to me for cash money tells me they “have something to share”

    Sad to see some people have been so brainwashed by the big lie of F2P that they’re actually apologising for it.

    #8 1 year ago
  9. kingy

    This is a good thing I’m sick to death of in app purchases so much I’ve stopped downloading games on my phone for me and the kids because I’m sick of having to explain to the kids that you have to pay for that and this ,I’m not tight I do buy games for the kids but it’s getting silly I’m glad someone has stepped in with power to sort this out

    #9 1 year ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    Liu Kang has been confirmed as a playable character in Mortal Kombat X in the latest video. You’ll also notice Bo’ Rai Cho in there as well. In the Shaolin trailer above you also get a look at Kung Lao and Kung Jin who is new to the series. Apparently, Raiden’s past champions of the […]

  • Short teaser for Star Wars: Battlefront shows the Battle of Hoth

    A short teaser for Star Wars: Battlefront has been posted by EA on Twitter. Well, that speeder isn't going anywhere. Can someone give us a lift to @SW_Celebration http://t.co/srEVrAA0zl #SWCA https://t.co/4W4LG8myke — EAStarWars (@EAStarWars) March 25, 2015 The teaser shows vehicles which we could be using in the game, but it mainly shows the snowy landscape […]

  • Pillars of Eternity releases today – get all the review scores here

    Pillars of Eternity, which still stands as the second most-funded video game on Kickstarter, finally releases today. It’s also getting some rather positive reviews scores, which we’ve rounded up for you. The isometric, party-based RPG from Obsidian Entertainment was one of the first video game projects to take to Kickstarter, and hit its $1.1 million […]

  • Take an in-depth look at Evolve’s Behemoth monster and four new hunters

    Evolve’s fourth monster, the Behemoth, as well as the four new hunters are shown off in new gameplay video. Evolve’s latest gameplay trailer gives everyone a good look at each of the four new hunters and the massive Behemoth monster. The hunters can be bought either separately or though the hunting pass, while the monster […]

  • PS4 firmware update 2.50 causing issues with Killzone: Shadow Fall

    The suspend/resume feature in PlayStation 4′s 2.50 firmware update is causing some issues with Killzone: Shadow Fall. Killzone: Shadow Fall developer Guerrilla has said that the game is experiencing some issues in some instance where the suspend/resume feature is used. The timing of when players put the game in suspend mode does have an effect, […]

  • Bungie on Destiny matchmaking: “We believe there’s no substitute for a pre-made team”

    Crazy though this may seem, it’s possible that Destiny shipped according to plan. History points to community as a crucial component, far from the contingency that many now suspect. Paul Davies spoke to Bungie for clarity. “The community always engineers the best solutions for bringing players together. While Matchmaking is a great resource for introducing […]

  • Bloodborne works with suspend/resume, but only offline

    PlayStation 4′s newly-added suspend/resume feature works with Bloodborne as you’d expect, but only while offline. PlayStation 4 received the long-awaited suspend/resume feature today as part of firmware 2.50, and people are starting to test it out with various games. Bloodborne does work with the feature, but only if you play offline. Playing online is arguably […]

  • This is what Crossy Road looks like in first-person

    Crossy Road is fun and addictive. But in first-person, it’s mostly frightening. YouTube user Andy Front Films likes Crossy Road so much he decided to show off what it would look like in first-person. If crossing roads quickly and watching around for cars and trains, all of this as the camera chases you felt intense […]

  • Take a small behind-the-scenes peek at Mass Effect 4

    BioWare cinematic director Ken Thain has given us a very slim look behind the scenes at some motion capture work from the upcoming Mass Effect game. The upcoming Mass Effect game, whether it ends up being called Mass Effect 4 or not, will most definitely incorporate some form of motion capture work. How do we […]

  • Borderlands: The Handsome Collection – 8GB day one patch on PS4, 16GB on Xbox One

    Day one patches for Borderlands: The Handsome Collection are pretty hefty. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection require players to download lots of gigabytes to make the experience as smooth as possible. The PlayStation 4 version has an 8.31GB day one patch. The Xbox One version however has […]

  • Get a PlayStation 4 with Bloodborne and The Last of Us for $435

    If you’ve been waiting for the perfect game to get to buy a PlayStation 4, there’s no better time than the present. Amazon is offering a good PlayStation 4 bundle at the moment. For $434.99, you get a PlayStation 4 console, The Last of Us, and Bloodborne. The Last of Us is of course the […]

  • Upcoming Battlefield Hardline patch to nerf the K10, buff battle rifles

    Battlefield Hardline’s first patch will focus on weapon balance and a few changes have been proposed. Battlefield Hardline lead multiplayer designer Thaddeus Sasser posted a few of the balance changes that the team is considering for the next patch. K10: reduce bullet damage to 33 Saiga and PTR: reduce recoil to bring more in line […]

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and a new Resident Evil game coming this year, according to research firm

    According to digital games analyst SuperData, a new Resident Evil game is due this fall and that this year’s Call of Duty is Black Ops 3. In its latest report on digital console games, research and analytics firm SuperData revealed that a new Resident Evil is coming this fall. “We anticipate this month’s downturn to […]

  • Bloodborne: you can add gestures to your messages

    As players get deeper into Bloodborne, they keep uncovering so many of its little new additions, including this one. Bloodborne, like all of the Souls games before it, allows players to leave messages for other players. These messages could be used to point players towards impending doom, treasure, or just be sarcastic and witty. What […]

  • PlayStation 4 firmware update 2.50 is now live

    PlayStation 4 firmware update version 2.50 has started rolling out. Reports are coming in saying that Yukimura, PlayStation 4′s firmware 2.50 has been made available to download. The update is clocking in at just 245mb, so get downloading. 2.50 brings with it many new additions, including the suspend/resume feature, backup and restore, accessibility options and […]

  • Harley Quinn DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight is a prequel

    Batman: Arkham Knight’s Harley Quinn pre-order DLC is set before the events of the main game, according to Amazon’s description. Today we learned a few details about the pre-order DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight, namely the Harley Quinn one. According to the description on Amazon, the DLC takes place in the lead-up to the events […]

  • Bloodborne Vicar Amelia summon mystery solved

    Bloodborne players unable to summon near Vicar Amelia: here’s your solution. Bloodborne’s secrets are unfolding by the hour as clever players piece together From Software’s cunning design. Yesterday we reported problems summoning in the Cathedral Ward, before the Vicar Amelia boss fight. It turns out this isn’t a bug – or if it is, it’s […]

  • Steven Spielberg will direct film adaption of Ready Player One

    Steven Spielberg will direct the film adaption of the sci-fi, virtual world, video game themed novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Warner Bros. bought the rights to the film in June 2010 and hired screenwriter Zak Penn to rewrite the previous draft written by Eric Eason, according to Deadline. The book takes place in […]

  • Bloodborne players with PS4 headsets shouldn’t forget about the custom audio

    Here’s a friendly reminder for Bloodborne players with PS4 headsets: be sure to download the Headset Companion App from the PlayStation store if you haven’t already. As previously reported, the game supports a custom Bloodborne audio mode which can be uploaded. It contains custom audio created by developers specifically tuned to enhance the audio. This […]

  • EA explains why FIFA Ultimate Team transfer prices are now platform specific

    EA has posted a blog entry explaining its FIFA Ultimate Team transfer market price ranges which now include platform-specific pricing in order to best the coin sellers. EA said it has implemented the changes to FUT over the last several weeks because it should be “fair and fun for every player,” ultimately coming to the […]

  • Game of Thrones: Episode 3 – The Sword in the Darkness now available

    In case you forgot, Game of Thrones: Episode 3 – The Sword in the Darkness was released today. It is available on Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. The third episode releases on iOS devices and Android tomorrow, March 26. The Sword in the Darkness finds Asher Forrester heading to Mereen […]

  • Bloodborne players are already documenting their crazy antics

    Bloodborne has been available for almost two days now in North America, and already players are posting interesting clips and character customization choices for the game. Below are interesting takes on creating a character and videos of a frustrating death and another full of blood coming from a very painful place – monster or not. […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team celebrates sixth year in existence with giveaways

    FIFA Ultimate Team is celebrating its sixth year in existence with special events running from today until March 29. According to EA, every FUT fan will be handed one free pack every day, and those who play at least one match in the FUT Birthday Cup will have a chance to win rare “tradable In-Forms” […]

  • Halo Online is a F2P PC game in development exclusively for Russia – video

    Halo Online is a free-to-play game which will launch this spring in Russia, and is in development with Saber Interactive. According the reveal event attended by IGN Russia, the game was designed to run well on lower-end PCs and runs on a modified Halo 3 engine. The game is set on a secret UNSC space […]

  • SteamWorld Dig Xbox One release expected in late May

    SteamWorld Dig is coming to Xbox One, developer Image & Form has announced. A firm release date hasn’t been announced, but the studio expects the title to arrive on the system in late May. “We’re preparing quite an elaborate Easter egg for the Xbox One version – a gaming thing that we really wanted to […]

  • SMITE celebrating first anniversary with a sale on skins, Ultimate God Pack

    Hi-Rez Studios is celebrating the first anniversary of SMITE with a sale. From today through Friday, March 27, the Ultimate God Pack, which includes all current and future Gods, will run you $19.99. Alll individual pre-launch skins are 50% off, and all Gem Packs will award bonus gems. In addition, from March 27-29, all SMITE […]

  • Borderlands 2 has sold around 12 million copies, says Gearbox

    Speaking with Microsoft’s Major Nelson in his podcast, Gearbox Software boss Randy Pitchford stated Borderlands 2 has sold somewhere around the 12 million mark. As of August 2014, it was announced by Take-Two in its financial report the 2012 game had sold-in 10 million units. Pitchford noted in the podcast he learned of the figures […]

  • Broken Age releasing on PS4 and Vita same day as Act 2 on PC

    Double Fine Productions has announced it will release Broken Age on the PlayStation Store next month. Act 2 will also be released on PC. The full Broken Age adventure will release on PlayStation 4 and Vita on April 28 in North America and April 29 in Europe. It features cross-buy and cross-save. Broken Age Act […]

  • Star Citizen earned another $1 million within two weeks – total hits $76 million

    Star Citizen continues its funding streak with backers pumping another $1 million into the game’s development in the last two weeks. The total earned for the space sim has now reached $76 million ($76,015,532 to be exact) with 851,395 backers contributing to the staggering figure. Star Citizen’s latest update was version 1.1 which included two […]

  • Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Battlefield: Hardline top Media Create charts

    Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Battlefield: Hardline were the big ticket debuts during the March 16-2 period in Japan, with each game claiming the top three slots on the Media Create charts, respectively. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD moved 92,094 on PlayStation 4, while Resident Evil Revelations 2 moved 73,373 units on […]

  • You can now learn English or Spanish on Xbox One with the Rosetta App

    Want to learn English or Spanish? Rosetta Stone has an App for that on Xbox One. According to the language teaching firm, Rosetta Stone’s Discover Languages, the new application teaches English and Spanish by way of immersive simulation. Users will virtually travel to learn vocabulary and grammar “necessary for real-world interactions.” Here’s how it works: […]

  • PayDay 2 and PayDay: The Heist have sold over 9 million units combined

    The PayDay franchise is a lucrative IP for Starbreeze and Overkill, as both games combined have sold over 9 million copies as of November 2014. The company has also sold over 8 million paid DLC packages since PayDay 2 was released in 2013 (via NeoGAF). In its Q2 half year report issued in February, net […]

  • Nintendo wants to “surprise” customers with NX, not expand upon existing hardware

    Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has firm wants to “surprise” players with its new NX system. Speaking in an interview with Nikkei, translated by Kotaku, Iwata wouldn’t go into details on the new system, but stated expanding on a current gaming system would be “dull.” “In the past few years, the idea of what [encompasses] a […]

  • Kojima Station show suspended

    In another episode in the the ongoing kerfuffle between Hideo Kojima and Konami, the publisher has suspended the Kojima Station web show. Recent tweets from the newly created Japanese Metal Gear Solid account confirm that Kojima Station will not be broadcast tomorrow, but would not provide a date for the next episode. The Tweets were […]

  • Watch Battle Royale for free this weekend on Xbox Live

    Square Enix is celebrating the launch of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD by offering Xbox Live members in the UK a free rental of Battle Royale. Starting Saturday, March 28 and through Sunday, March 29, Xbox Live members in the UK will be able to rent Battle Royale through the Xbox Video Store, for free. The […]

  • Bloodborne journal, part 1: managing anxiety on the path to the Cleric Beast

    Bloodborne is both like and unlike the Souls games. Brenna descends into Yharnam with reluctance and trepidation. Need help succeeding in Bloodborne? You need our Bloodborne walkthrough and boss guide. Bloodborne isn’t Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls. Let’s get that out of the way right off. I enjoyed both Dark Souls games, but it was […]