OFT investigates free web and app-based games

OFT investigates free web and app-based games

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has recently launched an investigation into the practices of web and app-based games companies.

Their investigation aims to find out whether children are being pressured into buying content in ‘free’ games and apps (such as digital coins, fruit and gems or upgrades) for apps that are initially free to download. This type of practice is potentially in conflict with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

These 2008 Regulations ban traders in all sectors from using unfair commercial practices towards consumers. This includes ‘commercially aggressive’ sales practices where children are strongly encouraged to buy (or to badger their parents into buying) in-app content.

These Regulations also covers misleading practices, like false or deceptive sales messages, or leaving out important information (particularly about charges). And the OFT is also concerned that the real price of games isn’t made clear by designers before the decision is taken to download them – i.e. the so-called ‘in-app’ purchases aren’t made clear at the outset.

This follows a number of high profile cases that have surfaced recently. You’ve probably heard the story of the boy who spent £1700 on his father’s iPad on in-app purchases in less than an hour. After refunding the family in full, Apple have now included a warning for parents in all their free apps to show whether they offer in-app purchases or not.

Although the OFT’s investigation is still on-going – and it’ll be October this year before any results are published – it seems likely that specific rules will be established to aid cost transparency at the time of download, and limit unfair sales practices in order to regulate this new marketplace.

The reality is, though, that the only way to stop your children from buying additional content is to switch off in-app purchases in the application’s settings. You can do this on most devices that I’m aware of. Children can of course still be expected to want to play these games despite any measures the OFT may belatedly come up with. So don’t give up your passwords to your children too readily!

Return to the insights archive »

The content on our site is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content on our site.

Although we make reasonable efforts to update the information on our site, we make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content on our site is accurate, complete or up-to-date.

Click here to view our Terms of Use