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Free-to-play kids' games may be unlawful, says UK fair trade body
Free-to-play kids' games may be unlawful, says UK fair trade body
April 12, 2013 | By Mike Rose

April 12, 2013 | By Mike Rose
More: Social/Online, Smartphone/Tablet, Business/Marketing

The Office of Fair Trading, a government department in the UK focused on consumer protection, today announced that it plans to investigate free-to-play apps and games aimed at children.

The group is looking to discover whether children are being unfairly pressured into buying additional content or virtual currency for free-to-play games, or being wrongly encouraged.

The OFT says that it has written to a number of companies that offer web and app-based free-to-play children's games, in a bid to gather information about how these games are being marketed to children.

In particular, the organization wants to know whether these games include "direct exhortations" to children, strongly encouraging them to purchase extra content, or persuading parents that this extra content needs to be bought.

If this is proven true, it would be classed as unlawful under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 act, says the OFT.

The OFT is also considering whether the potential full cost of these free-to-play games is made clear before they are downloaded and accessed.

This information may change the decision of the parent to allow the child to play the game, says the OFT, and therefore prices must be more transparently advertised.

"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," explained Cavendish Elithorn, OFT senior director for Goods and Consumer.

Elithorn stressed that the OFT is not looking to ban in-game purchases outright, but rather wants to ensure that the games industry is complying with the relevant regulations.

"We are speaking to the industry and will take enforcement action if necessary," he added.

This move comes after multiple reports of children racking up huge bills after purchasing in-app purchases on their parents' mobile devices. Earlier this year Apple was forced to pay back parents who complained about the purchases.

The OFT isn't the first government body to scrutinize in-app purchases in kids' games. Recently, the Federal Trade Commission stated that mobile apps and games aimed at children are not doing enough to address privacy concerns.

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Lincoln Thurber
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This is a question that will always be answered - yes. Yes, you will be pressured to give money to buy coins/tokens to make the game work faster and it hardly matter is that "action" is advertised or warned against because the very fact it is IN THERE is the bad part. Most children have a poor sense of patience or the ability to calmly wait for delayed gratification.

Terry Matthes
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"Most children have a poor sense of patience or the ability to calmly wait for delayed gratification. "

Hence the point of the game as I'm sure you know Lincoln...

I believe apps aimed for children should not be allowed to have any sort of monetary pressure due to the fact that the intended audience doesn't have the means to even exploit this. Was the game created for kids to have fun, or for parents to be begged for cash. By children I mean 15 and below as you probably aren't working until the age of 16 in MOST cases.

Morals vs Money.. GO!

Eric Salmon
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The problem I have is: what standards identify a game or app aimed at children? Bright, vibrant colors? Story depth? Simplicity of mechanics? Ratings? Actual usage statistics?

Chris Grey
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When the government decides to look into deceptive business practices, you know that F2P is growing up. lol

Matthew Buxton
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Well I'm sure someone will flash the cash and make it go away as in other industries... maybe we are not that morally bankrupt yet :)

Alan Boody
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Pocket Gems is a company that should be investigated for this. Their 'f2p' games would cost a fortune to be unlocked into full games and they definitely target kids.