TIGA made the comments following an announcement by the Office of Fair Trading that it would be investigating whether apps that can be freely downloaded from Apple or Google owned online stores have “unfairly pressured” children, to pay for additional content.
The OFT is not intending to ban in-game purchases but it aims to ensure that the games industry adheres to relevant regulations that protect children.
The OFT investigation will explore whether these games are misleading, commercially aggressive or otherwise unfair. In particular, the OFT is looking into 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.
This is unlawful under the Consumer Protection (from Unfair Trading) Regulations 2008.
The OFT will also consider whether the full cost of games is made clear when they are downloaded or accessed, potentially leading to children and parents to make decisions they may not have made if prices were more transparently advertised at the start of the purchasing process.
The OFT is asking for information from games developers and games hosting services, as well as consumer and parenting groups. The information will be used to understand business practices used in this sector, to establish whether consumer protection regulations are being breached and if so what the consumer harm is.
Dr Richard Wilson, TIGA CEO, said:
“’Freemium games’ with in app purchases are an important commercial model for many games businesses in the UK. Freemium games give consumers the opportunity to try out games, initially at no financial cost, and then if they like the experience they can make in-app purchases that enhance their enjoyment.
“Game developers and digital publishers must provide evidence for the OFT to enable it to understand business practices in the sector. It is imperative that consumer protection regulations are adhered to at all times.”
Chris Kingsley, CTO at Rebellion Studios in Oxford, said:
“In the meantime, it is always prudent for parents and guardians of children to monitor their children’s playing of games and to use safeguards that are built into handsets to prevent a child from accidentally or intentionally buying in-app purchases.”
In addition TIGA, have announced that they would organise a fact-finding committee and seminar to gather information about in-game marketing and business models, to ensure that the views of the industry are effectively represented vis-à-vis the OFT.