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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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    A Battletoads remake must be on the horizon. Right? Right?? The Battletoads will appear in the upcoming Xbox One version of Shovel Knight, Yacht Club Games revealed today. The Battletoads drop in for a fight! Shovel Knight is headed to Xbox One and meets up with @RareLtd brawling trio! pic.twitter.com/OCQIuWbH3W — Yacht Club Games (@YachtClubGames) […]

  • The Division pre-alpha footage leaks, Ubisoft says it’s well out of date

    The Division fans finally got a look at Ubisoft’s MMO this week, but the publisher has said the footage is not in any way representative. Pre-alpha footage of the The Division was leaked this week, but has since been thoroughly smacked down by takedown notices. All that remains are a few screenshots and a GIF: […]

  • Microsoft HoloLens designer killed in hit and run accident

    Very sad news out of Redmond this week, as Mike Ey was killed in a tragic accident. Ey, 30, was one of the key project designers on Microsoft’s HoloLens AR headset. He was killed on Saturday morning in a rear-end collision. The driver of the second vehicle fled the scene but was tracked down by […]

  • AMD throws support behind VR with new low-latency anti-nausea tech

    GPU manufacturer AMD has released a new SDK compatible with “a broad set of VR devices”. Called LiquidVR, the tech is designed to “bring better content, comfort, and compatibility to VR applications” including games, simulation, entertainment, education, social media, travel, medicine, real estate and ecommerce, apparently. AMD said maintaining comfort and realism in VR environments […]

  • Danganronpa 3 in the works, but a long way off yet

    A new Danganronpa is happening. Danganronpa 3 is in the very, very early production stages, writer Kodaka Kazutaka has confirmed. Nothing about the project is “set in stone”, Kazutaka told Polygon, so there are no details to share yet; the characters and story may change several times before being finalised. The writer said he’s weighing […]

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare MLG Pro League 2015 schedule announced

    Major League Gaming has announced the full schedule for the 2015 Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare MLG Pro League. The eSpots firm revealed two more seasons of Pro League, a live Relegation tournament for Season Three, and a season ending World Championship with $250,000 up for grabs You can watch all the action on MLG.tv […]

  • Happy Birthday PlayStation 2, you are almost old enough to drive

    Amidst all the GDC 2015 hoopla today, we forgot to wish PlayStation 2 a Happy Birthday. The system turned 15 years old today, going by its March 4, 2000 launch date in Japan. It was released in the west that autumn, and had shipped 100 million units in less than six years post launch. PS2 […]

  • Here’s what the final version of Valve’s Steam Controller looks like

    A look at the updated Steam Controller has surfaced via a hands-on post from Polygon. Valve said what you see in the images below is the final version of the controller. The controller has gone through numerous revisions since it was first revealed, but it seems Valve has decided on two touch pads which work […]

  • The Sims, SimCity developer closed down

    The Sims 4 developer Maxis has been shuttered, EA has confirmed. The Sims, SimCity and the rest of the Sim franchise has traditionally been helmed by Maxis, which had its flagship studio in Emeryville, California. Now EA has confirmed with Kotaku that this studio is being closed. “Today we are consolidating Maxis IP development to […]

  • Gigantic MOBA coming to Windows 10 and Xbox One with cross-play

    Today during GDC 2015, Microsoft announced that the new IP from Motiga called Gigantic will be cross-play enabled. Slated for Windows 10 and Xbox One, the five-on-five third-person battle arena game allows the player to select from an array of heroes with distinctive powers and play styles. Players will then make their way through areas […]

  • Here’s a look at Unreal Tournament DirectX 12 gameplay

    Epic Games is creating Unreal Tournament using Unreal Engine 4 running on DirectX 12, which Microsoft says “sets a new bar for visual fidelity.” DirectX 12 is a single API developers can access across Windows devices, which can result in a 20% improvement in performance over DX11 running on the same machine. The Unreal Tournament […]

  • Wireless adapter for Xbox One controllers out later this year

    Microsoft announced at GDC 2015 today it will that all wireless Xbox gaming accessories will be designed for and supported on both Xbox One consoles and Windows 10 PCs moving forward. Later this year, a wireless adapter will be released, allowing current Xbox controllers and future devices to be used wirelessly on PCs. This will […]

  • Microsoft offers up more details on Spencer’s GDC 2015 talk

    Microsoft has provided more details on Cross-Buy functionality between Windows 10 and Xbox One as well as the Xbox Live SKU and other announcements made during Phil Spencer’s talk today. During the session, the head of Xbox shared “the next step” in the company’s plans for a unified platform across all Windows 10 devices which […]

  • Wasteland 2 is coming to PlayStation 4 this summer

    Wasteland 2 is coming to PlayStation 4 as a Game of the Year Edition. inXile Entertainment announced the news on the PS Blog, noting the edition contains enhancements and improvements. The game has been ported to Unity 5, which was announced over the weekend, providing upgraded visual effects, “improved character models, upgraded environments, and Unity […]

  • Cross-Buy detailed for Windows 10 and Xbox One; Elite: Dangerous coming to Xbox One

    During Xbox boss Phil Spencer’s session at GDC 2015 today, it was announced Elite: Dangerous would release on Xbox One. Spencer also outlined cross-buy functionality across Windows 10 and Xbox One. Spencer’s talk started off with Frontier Developments announcing Elite: Dangerous for release this summer as a console debut on Xbox One, suggesting the Elite: […]

  • Longbeards Culture Pack available now for Total War: Attila

    The Longbeards Culture Pack is now available for Total War: Attila and it comes with three new playable factions. The Langobards, the Burgundians and the Alamans can be played in both single and multiplayer campaign modes as well as custom and multiplayer battles. A new feature called The Lay of Ybor is also included. It […]

  • Nvidia unveils Titan X as world’s “most advanced GPU” – video

    Nvidia revealed Titan X as “the world’s most advanced GPU” during Epic founder Tim Sweeney’s State of Unreal session a t GDC 2015 today. Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang took the stage during the panel stating it contains “8 billion transistors,” and has 12GB of RAM. Pricing wasn’t announced, but it was rumored back in January […]

  • Steam sale discounts titles announced for SteamOS

    With many of the year’s most popular games heading to SteamOS, Valve has decided to host sale in celebration. Here’s a short list of titles on sale. The full list of PC, Linux, Mac and SteamOS discounts can be found through the link. The Banner Saga Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Batman: Arkham […]

  • PayDay 2 announced for SteamOS, celebrating with franchise sale

    PayDay 2 is coming to SteamOS, Overkill has announced. Still under development, a release date will be announced at a later date. “Making sure PAYDAY 2 is available on SteamOS felt like a no-brainer,” said Bo Andersson Klint, CEO of Starbreeze in the press release. “With PAYDAY 2: Crimewave Edition coming to the next generation […]

  • Magicka 2 has a release date and a crazy new trailer

    Magicka 2 has a release date for PC and the PlayStation 4, and Paradox Interactive has released a trailer featuring “Vlad’s latest lyrical triumph,” which is his rendition of the Game of Thrones theme. Magicka arrived on PC and PS4 May 26 and the game can be pre-ordered on PC beginning today, with PS4 pre-orders […]

  • Nintendo eShop schedule: Don’t Starve: Giant Edition, Never Alone, others

    Nintendo has sent over a list of titles heading to the eShop in 2015. The schedule contains titles such as Affordable Space Adventures, Runbow, Swords & Soldiers 2, Don’t Starve: Giant Edition, Never Alone and Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars. Below a preliminary list of games scheduled to launch in the Nintendo eShop on […]

  • Week 8: Can you win the weekly VG247 GTA Online playlist? Play tonight at 8pm UK time!

    We’re hotdogging tonight. I don’t even know what that means. Eight weeks of ridiculous death. Such a brave, true milestone. We’re going to celebrate two entire months of playing weekly GTA Online playlists with VG247 readers with Hotdogging, a set of six jobs I named completely at random. This one ends with a straight-up border […]

  • Puzzle platformer Four Sided Fantasy coming to PC, consoles in early 2016

    Curve Digital and developer Logan Fieth’s studio Ludo Land are bringing puzzle platformer, Four Sided Fantasy, to PC all major consoles in early 2016. Ludo Land are developing the PC version, with Curve Digital handling the console and Vita versions. Four Sided Fantasy tasks players with venturing across “dreamlike levels” by controlling and manipulating the […]

  • Tropico 5 arrives on PS4 in April – video

    A release date for Tropico 5 on PlayStation 4 has been announced. This is the franchise’s first foray onto PlayStation consoles. It arrived in Europe on April 24 and in North America on April 28. A Limited Edition has also been announced, and it includes The Big Cheese DLC and the Bayo Del Olfato sandbox […]

  • Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain Limited Edition PS4 releasing in Asia

    A limited edition Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain PlayStation 4 system will be released in Asia. The system and its DualShock controller were designed in collaboration with Konami Digital Entertainment and targeted for the Asia region, per Gematsu. It will be released as part of PS4 Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain […]

  • This video shows Sid Meier’s Starships being played on iPad

    Sid Meier’s Starships will be released on iPad alongside Mac and PC, and to give you an idea on how it plays on the tablet, a new video has been released. Watch below as Pete Murray and lead producer Stuart Zissu show off the iPad version. The 4X space-strategy releases on March 12.

  • Wolfenstein: The Old Blood announced as standalone prequel to Wolfenstein: The New Order

    Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, a standalone prequel to The New Order, will release May 5 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. The game takes pace in 1946, and and players take on the role of B.J. Blazkowicz as he embarks on a two-part mission in Bavaria. Part one, Rudi Jäger and the Den of Wolves, […]

  • Observer Mode coming soon to Evolve as a free update

    Observer Mode will be released for Evolve as a free update for all platforms, 2K and Turtle Rock have announced. The community feature was designed to give Evolve players the ability to observe and add commentary as well as livestream, allowing a sixth user to “passively enter a custom game” with the ability to switch […]

  • Dragon Quest Heroes and PS4 top Media Create charts in Japan

    The PlayStation 3 and PS4 skus for Dragon Quest Heroes were the top sellers on the Media Create charts in Japan, moving a combined 594,749 units. Elsewhere on the chart, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D was in third place with 39,751 units moved, and last week’s top seller, God Eater 2: Rage Burst, […]

  • Watch Hideo Kojima answer lots of your burning Phantom Pain questions

    What’s better than learning the official release date of MGS5: The Phantom pain? Hideo Kojima talking more about it, of course! Hideo Kojima has decided to answer a few fan questions about Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, to help boost everyone’s hype to insane levels. He talks about the game’s story, his relief […]

  • MGS5: The Phantom Pain Day 1 and Collector’s Edition revealed

    Konami has officially revealed the release date of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain alongside the game’s Day 1 and Collector’s Edition. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain will release September 1, worldwide, as previously leaked. It will be available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. The PC Steam […]

  • EU Club Nintendo: Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds soundtrack back in stock

    Club Nintendo members in Europe can once again pick up The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds soundtrack. For 3000 Stars, members of the program will receive the double-CD soundtrack which features 89 tracks with liner notes from Ryo Nagamatsu and 12 sheet music excerpts. It also comes with 16 Milk Bar Musician pieces. […]

  • HTC apologises over “confusing” Half-Life VR comments

    HTC has misspoke when it talked about Half-Life coming to VR headset Vive. HTC chairwoman Cher Wang has apologised over the comments she made yesterday about the possibility of Half-Life coming to Vive, the VR headset it’s manufacturing with the help of Valve. Sources close to Valve, have indicated to the BBC that the developer […]

  • What do Heists and Daily Objectives tell us about the future of GTA Online?

    Daily Objectives could be more important to GTA Online than Heists. These theories and more, from a giddy Matt Martin. Yesterday Rockstar dropped a bombshell. Not only is it releasing Heists next week – the mythical 4-player missions for GTA Online – but it’s also going to be introducing daily challenges and more modes to […]

  • Breaking down Hardline Premium, is it worth it?

    Having been announced just a few days ago, the Premium service for Battlefield Hardline has been a topic of constant debate among the Battlefield community. Many look at Hardline as a Battlefield off-shoot that will just tide everyone over until Battlefront comes out in the fall. EA has other plans however, announcing a $50 Premium […]

  • Watch Dogs sold more than GTA 5 and FIFA 15 in Australia in 2014

    Watch Dogs outsold GTA 5, and FIFA 15, at retail in Australia last year. According to data obtained by the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA) from the NPD Group Australia, last year’s year retail sales charts look a bit different in Australia. The top-selling game was Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, followed by Watch […]

  • Watch PC footage of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt from GDC 2015

    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has a new gameplay video available that shows a bit of action from the PC version. The video below was captured from Nvidia’s GDC conference live-stream. Developer CD Projekt RED was on hand to show off The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt‘s graphical prowess running on a PC. Thanks, GamesHQMedia.

  • Dying Light: Hard Mode and Ultimate Survivor Bundle out March 10

    Dying Light’s second DLC drop, the Ultimate Survivor Bundle, and the free Hard Mode, have been given a solid release date alongside a new trailer. Dying Light developer Techland has confirmed that the Ultimate Survivor Bundle, the game’s second DLC drop, will release March 10. The DLC is part of the season pass, but will […]