The UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has published a set of principles that clarify its position on the legal obligations of the online and app-based games industry. It follows last year’s investigation into gaming industry practices that were potentially misleading or broke consumer protection laws in other ways.
The principles cover:
- An accurate description of the game before customers play, download or pay
- Clear up-front pricing
- Any use of personal data
- Information about the game provider
- Separating paid-for content and promotional material from the game
- Misleading explanations about the need to pay for in-game items
- Placing undue influence or pressure on children to make purchases
- Encouraging children to make a purchase
- Ensuring all payments are authorised by the account holder
Games producers are being given until 1st April 2014 to ensure their games don’t break the law. In addition, the OFT has published guidance for parents to help make sure that children don’t make unexpected in-game purchases. It says almost 90% of children aged between seven and 15 have played online games in the past six months, with half of them paying to play on at least one occasion.
Clive Maxwell, Chief Executive of the OFT, said “Many children enjoy playing these types of games. This rapidly growing creative sector has also brought wider economic benefits. The on-line and apps based games industry has already made significant improvements during our consultation process. But it still needs to do more to protect children and treat its customers fairly. Our principles make clear the type of practices that games makers and platform operators should avoid. Parents and carers have an important role to help protect their child and their bank balance. Our advice is that parents check their device settings, play their child's games themselves and read the game's description online. Parents will also be encouraged to report concerns to Citizens Advice.”
The new Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will be responsible for these new principles from April. It’ll combine the activities of the Competition Commission with all of the competition functions and some of the consumer functions currently handled by the Office of Fair Trading.
[OFT Principles for online and app-based games (pdf)]