OFT investigating ‘free’ games over child concerns

The UK’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is investigating whether children are being unfairly pressured or encouraged to buy additional content for free-to-play web and app-based games. The London-based regulator has contacted companies offering free games supported by microtransactions in a bid to gather information on in-game marketing to kids and determine whether they're acting entirely within the law.

In particular, the OFT said it’s investigating 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”. The practice is unlawful under the Consumer Protection (from Unfair Trading) Regulations 2008.

Cavendish Elithorn, OFT senior director for goods and consumer, said: “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.”

The OFT has also called for parents and consumer groups to contact it with information about what they believe to be misleading or commercially aggressive practices in this field.

Earlier this year in the US, Apple agreed to settle a lawsuit brought against the company in 2011 by parents who said their children had racked up significant credit card charges while playing supposedly free games. The iPhone maker subsequently added a prominent "Offers In-App Purchases" warning to freemium apps on its digital marketplace.

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  • Darkhawk - April 12, 2013 1:54 p.m.

  • JarkayColt - April 12, 2013 11:36 a.m.

    I very much expect them to take some issue with at least something. I can't say much for web-based games as I hardly try them, but most free mobile games I've tried have absolutely wretchedly intrusive and nagging ads for in game purchases and other such nonsense. By which I mean, most of the games will persist in trying to make you part with your money. Sure, that's how these things work, but it just kills any potential fun. As a general rule of thumb I avoid any game in GooglePlay's highest grossing section which is marked free because, well, alarm bells. Whether or not they're "aggressive" or "misleading" is fairly subjective though.
  • winner2 - April 12, 2013 10:03 a.m.

    This reminds me of my 10 year old brother. When he was 8, our dad let him get free games with his iTunes account. My brother got "tapfish" I think, but blew over 100$ in a day on in game "fish bucks" with my dad's account. Kids are deviousz

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