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Press releases 2013 -

Games industry should not pressure children to purchase, says OFT

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67/13    26 September 2013

The rapidly growing online and app-based games industry should not be pressuring children to make in-game purchases, according to new sector-wide principles published for consultation today by the OFT.

The eight principles also state that consumers should be told upfront about any possible in-game costs or advertising, and any important information such as whether their personal data is to be shared with third parties.

They also make clear that in-game payments are not authorised, and should not be taken, unless the payment account holder, such as a parent, has given their informed consent.

The proposed principles follow the OFT's investigation into whether children are being unfairly pressured or encouraged to pay for additional content in web and app-based games.

The OFT investigation found that some games included potentially unfair and aggressive commercial practices to which children may be particularly susceptible. 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.

Other areas of concern include:

  • 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
  • blurring the distinction between spending in-game currency and real money
  • children being encouraged or incited through in-game statements or images to make a purchase, or persuade others to make a 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.

The draft principles clarify the OFT's view of the rapidly evolving sector's obligations and are designed to tackle inconsistencies in the way the sector is interpreting the law.

They also include examples of commercial practices that are likely to breach consumer protection law and could be subject to enforcement action after the principles are finalised.

The 38 games investigated were produced by businesses in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world and the OFT is sharing the principles with international counterparts to achieve consistent standards where possible.

Cavendish Elithorn, OFT Executive Director, said:

'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. 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.

'In the meantime, we want to hear what parents, consumer groups, industry and anyone else with an interest thinks about our principles before we finalise them later this year.'

'This is a global industry so we're also sharing our principles with our enforcement partners world-wide with the goal of achieving some common international standards.'

NOTES

  1. The OFT is inviting comments on the Principles and welcomes responses by 21 November 2013. To read and comment on the principles, see the case page
  2. Ofcom has produced comprehensive video guides outlining the steps parents and others can take to protect against the main causes of mobile phone and tablet 'bill shock'. These include help on how to turn off or password protect in-app purchases.
  3. The OFT currently has 19 consumer enforcement cases open, including 12 estate agent cases and seven civil enforcement cases.



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