‘OFT report may affect sports and adult console games’

Harbottle & Lewis Partner Alan Moss takes a closer look at the OFT’s report on the impact of microtransactions on children, and the implications it has on our industry…

While the report describes itself as one that is targeted at protecting children – the report is entitled ‘Children’s Online Games’ – a number of the principles appear to affect all games that include microtransactions.

That means mobile, app-based, console and traditional PC games, including those designed for adults, so it may affect a wider cross-section of the industry than people realise, such as major publishers of sports and other adult titles.

The principles set out in the report are derived from current EU law but many studios are based outside the EU. Therefore, if a US studio developed a game which was available online in the UK that infringed the principles, it would be impractical for action to be taken because they are outside of the EU. The principles wouldn’t have teeth in this instance.

The OFT also has no jurisdiction outside of the UK. Although much of the underlying law applies across the EU, the OFT itself may only be able to impose fines on UK firms and not on those from another member state – although it is possible that the equivalent bodies in other member states will develop similar principles.

A related point is how the principles will affect platforms on which a game is made available. The report states that the platform will take some responsibility for compliance, to a differing degree depending on the principle in question. This is particularly relevant if the studio is not in the EU as the platform (assuming it is a global one with a UK presence) would become the obvious target for any OFT action or indeed a private claim.

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