OFT investigating free-to-play apps that pressure children into premium purchases

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ipad-with-apps.jpgFreemium and free-to-play mobile and web apps are to be investigated by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) over concerns that players are unwittingly running up substantial costs with them.

Looking specifically at the marketing approach to children that these games employ, the OFT will examine whether or not gamers, particularly children, are unfairly pressured into making purchases in games that are otherwise advertised as being free. To use the OFTs own words, the body’s investigation will look into whether these games include “direct exhortations” to children.

Free-to-play games on the web and mobile usually allow players to enjoy significant portions of the game for free, and some can even be played from start to finish without spending a penny. In-app purchases are usually used to sell items that speed up in-game achievements, grant in-game characters power boosts or unlock portions and levels of the game that are otherwise inaccessible.

“We are concerned that children and their parents could be subject to unfair pressure to purchase when they are playing games they thought were free, but which can actually run up substantial costs,” Cavendish Elithorn, OFT senior director for goods and consumer, told The Independent.

“The OFT is not seeking to ban in-game purchases, but the games industry must ensure it is complying with the relevant regulations so that children are protected. We are speaking to the industry and will take enforcement action if necessary.”

Gerald Lynch