Free games with in-app purchases are facing investigation by the UK’s Office of Fair Trading into whether children “are being unfairly pressured or encouraged to pay for additional content”. The Office of Fair Trading will be focusing on free “web and app-based games” that offer “upgraded membership or virtual currency such as coins, gems or fruit.”
The investigation follows reports in the UK press of children spending large amounts of money on in-app purchases without their parents permission. The OFT say their investigation “is exploring whether these games are misleading, commercially aggressive or otherwise unfair.”
UK law prohibits apps, commercials and other products from making direct requests of children to buy, from requesting an action that will lead to a purchase, or from asking the child to ask their parents to buy something. Pop-up screens in many mobile and web apps will almost certainly fall afoul of the law.
It’s important to note that the OFT’s focus isn’t on hardcore PC games, and I believe that the vast majority of free-to-play publishers on the PC are nowhere near as aggressive as web, facebook and mobile games.
The OFT is seeking submissions from businesses, parents, and anyone involved in the free-game sector.