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

Thursday, 27th 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.

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“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 7 months 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 7 months 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 7 months 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 7 months 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 7 months ago
  6. Michael Ireland

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

    #6 7 months 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 7 months 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 7 months 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 7 months ago

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