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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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