26th September 2013
The online and app-based games industry has again come under fire for encouraging children to make in-game purchases.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has today published a set of eight sector-wide principles for consultation, which include consumers being warned in advance about any potential in-game costs or advertising. According to the regulator, In-game payments should not be authorised and should not be taken unless the payment account holder (such as a parent) has given their informed consent. This also highlights the importance of parents not revealing the PIN for their mobile devices – or passwords for purchases – to their children under any circumstances to avoid running up substantial bills for such purchases.
The OFT's principles also state that consumers should be made aware of whether their personal data will be shared with third parties.
They follow the OFT's investigation into whether children are being unfairly pressured or encouraged to pay for additional content in web and app-based games. The study – involving 38 games produced by businesses in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world – found that some games included potentially unfair and aggressive commercial practices to which children may be particularly susceptible. For example, games implying that the player would somehow be letting other players or characters down if they did not obtain something by making an in-game purchase.
The investigation also highlighted the following potential issues:
– A general lack of transparent, accurate and clear upfront information about costs and other information that may impact on the consumer's decision to play, download or sign up to a game
– Blurring the distinction between spending in-game currency and real money
– Children being encouraged or incited through in-game statements or images to make a purchase, or persuade others to make a purchase
The OFT believes that such practices are "likely to breach consumer protection law and that companies in the market need to implement changes to ensure full compliance with their legal obligations".
The OFT is sharing the principles with international counterparts to achieve consistent standards where possible.
The body's Executive Director Cavendish Elithorn said: 'This is a new and innovative industry that has grown very rapidly in recent years, but it needs to ensure it is treating consumers fairly and that children are protected. The way the sector has worked with us since we launched our investigation is encouraging, and we've already seen some positive changes to its practices. These principles provide a clear benchmark for how games makers should be operating. Once they are finalised, we will expect the industry to follow them, or risk enforcement action."
He continued: "In the meantime, we want to hear what parents, consumer groups, industry and anyone else with an interest thinks about our principles before we finalise them later this year."