Today the British Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has announced to launch an investigation into whether children are being unfairly pressured or encouraged to pay for additional content in ‘free’ web and app-based games, including upgraded membership or virtual currency. Typically, players can access only portions of these games for free, with new levels or features, such as faster game play, costing money.
As part of the investigation, the OFT has written to companies offering free web or app-based games, seeking information on in-game marketing to children. The OFT is also asking for parents and consumer groups to contact it with information about potentially misleading or commercially aggressive practices they are aware of in relation to these games.
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.
OFT Senior Director for Goods and Consumers, Cavendish Elithorn, said: “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.“
Further information: http://www.oft.gov.uk/news-and-updates/press/2013/33-13#.UXkUJJXUamc