It may be a little behind the times, but the Office of Fair Trading has issued a reports warning smartphone developers about their in-app-payment strategies.
A new sector-wide principles paper published for consultation today by the OFT has highlighted a number of areas of concern regarding the sector, chief of which is the fear that children are being pressured” to buy in-app-payments in free games, often without the knowledge or consent of the bill payer.
The OFT investigation found that some games included potentially unfair and aggressive commercial practices to which children may be particularly susceptible,” it reads.
For example, games implying the player would somehow be letting other players or characters down if they did not obtain something by making an in-game purchase.
The OFT believes that commercial practices of this nature are likely to breach consumer protection law and that companies in the market need to implement changes to ensure full compliance with their legal obligations.”
It also highlighted a general lack of transparent, accurate and clear upfront information about costs and other information that may impact on the consumer's decision to play, download or sign up to a game” and accused game makers of blurring the distinction between spending in-game currency and real money” with children being encouraged or incited through in-game statements or images to make a purchase, or persuade others to make a purchase”.
The OFT's executive director Cavendish Elithorn added, however, that it has already seen some positive progress from the industry on the issue.
This is a new and innovative industry that has grown very rapidly in recent years, but it needs to ensure it is treating consumers fairly and that children are protected,” he said. The way the sector has worked with us since we launched our investigation is encouraging, and we've already seen some positive changes to its practices.
These principles provide a clear benchmark for how games makers should be operating. Once they are finalised, we will expect the industry to follow them, or risk enforcement action.”