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Children’s online games

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Summary

The OFT has published its finalised Principles for online and app-based games.

In April 2013, the OFT announced the launch of an investigation into the ways in which online and app-based games encourage children to make purchases. We investigated whether there was general market compliance with consumer protection law, in particular the Consumer Protection (from Unfair Trading) Regulations 2008 ('CPRs'), the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 ('the UTCCRs') and the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 ('the ECRs'). We explored whether online and app-based games included commercial practices that may be considered misleading, aggressive or otherwise unfair under that legislation.

Following our investigation, we publicly consulted on a set of proposed industry Principles. The consultation on the Principles ran from 26 September to 21 November 2013. We received 40 written submissions, as well as receiving oral submissions from some stakeholders. Most respondents supported our objectives and purpose in proposing the Principles and commended our consultative approach. We have revised the Principles mainly to clarify them, to reflect relevant legal provisions and to enable them to have a greater degree of international relevance and applicability.

We considered that a set of Principles would be the most helpful and proportionate approach to address the concerns we identified during our consultation because they clarify our view of the entire industry's obligations under consumer protection law. The concerns we articulated were:

  • a lack of transparent, accurate and clear up-front information relating, for example, to costs, and other information material to a consumer's decision about whether to play, download or sign up to a game
  • misleading commercial practices, including failing to differentiate clearly between commercial messages and gameplay
  • exploiting children's inexperience, vulnerability and credulity, including by aggressive commercial practices
  • including direct exhortations to children to buy advertised products or persuade their parents or other adults to buy advertised products for them
  • payments taken from account holders without their knowledge, express authorisation or informed consent.

The Competition and Markets Authority will, once it acquires its powers in April 2014, pick up from where the OFT has left off in respect of children's online games.

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