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

By Brenna Hillier
12 April 2013 01:39 GMT

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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