New rules for how free-to-play games should be listed and marketed have been released by the European Commission, following its investigation into in-app purchases.
Back in February, the EC announced it would be talking to developers and platform holders about how to make the free-to-play industry more transparent after complaints from "all over Europe" regarding the use of IAP – particularly in games aimed at children.
The national authorities within the Consumer Protection Cooperation network have settled on the following position and communicated this to Apple, Goolge and the Interactive Software Federation of Europe:
- Games advertised as "free" should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved;
- Games should not contain direct exhortation to children to buy items in a game or to persuade an adult to buy items for them;
- Consumers should be adequately informed about the payment arrangements for purchases and should not be debited through default settings without consumers' explicit consent;
- Traders should provide an email address so that consumers can contact them in case of queries or complaints.
Google has already made a number of changes to the way it lists free-to-play games and expects to be fully compliant by the end of September. Notably, this includes the decision to never use the word "free" when games contain microtransactions, and the creation of new guidelines for app developers to ensure they do not directly pressure children to make in-app purchases.
However, at the time of the EU release, "no firm commitment and no timing have been provided [by Apple] for the implementation of such possible future changes".
Of course, it's unlikely that Apple will ignore the new guidelines. Back in March, the iPhone firm added warnings of in-app purchases to its app listings.
Enforcement of the new rules, including any possible legal action that could be taken, will be decided to the various national authorities.
"This is the very first enforcement action of its kind in which the European Commission and national authorities joined forces," said EU commissioner for consumer policy Neven Mimica. "I am happy to see that it is delivering tangible results.
"This is significant for consumers. In particular, children must be better protected when playing online. The action also provides invaluable experience for the ongoing reflection on how to most effectively organise the enforcement of consumers rights in the Union. It has demonstrated that co-operation pays off and helps to improve the protection of consumers in all Member States."