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Office of Fair Trade to investigate f2p mobile and web games

Office of Fair Trade to investigate f2p mobile and web games

Fri 12 Apr 2013 7:24am GMT / 3:24am EDT / 12:24am PDT
MobileOnline

UPDATE: TIGA and UKIE respond to O.F.T.'s concern over children making in-app purchases

UPDATE: The UK trade bodies TIGA and UKIE have emphasised the controls the industry already has in place to prevent children from spending money on free-to-play games without parental consent.

“The games industry takes its responsibility to children very seriously and most devices and digital marketplaces have safeguards in place, such as password locks and parental controls, that can prevent children from being able to access in-app purchases,” said Jo Twist, CEO of UKIE, who discussed the matter on the BBC's Today programme.

“In-app purchasing is simply a new and innovative way for consumer to pay for these games and access the extra content that they want.”

Richard Wilson, CEO of TIGA, agreed that the industry is already addressing the problem, but he also urged companies to aid the O.F.T.'s investigation in any way possible.

“Game developers and digital publishers must provide evidence for the OFT to enable it to understand business practices in the sector,” he said. “It is imperative that consumer protection regulations are adhered to at all times.”

ORIGINAL STORY: The UK Office of Fair Trade will investigate mobile and online games to ascertain whether children are unduly pressured to pay for additional content in ostensibly free products.

As part of the investigation, the O.F.T. will converse with developers and publishers about their in-game marketing methods. It will also ask for contributions from parents and consumer groups for, "misleading and commercially aggressive practices."

The O.F.T. Is particularly concerned about games that appeal directly to children for payment, or employ tactics that persuade children to appeal to their parents for money - unlawful under the Consumer Protection (from Unfair Trading) Regulations 2008. It will also focus on how clearly games explain the full cost of play while the experience is free, thereby giving children and parents the information they need to make informed choices later.

"We are concerned that children and their parents could be subject to unfair pressure to purchase when they are playing games they thought were free, but which can actually run up substantial costs," said Cavendish Elithorn, senior director for Goods and Consumer at the O.F.T..

"The O.F.T. is not seeking to ban in-game purchases, but the games industry must ensure it is complying with the relevant regulations so that children are protected. We are speaking to the industry and will take enforcement action if necessary."

27 Comments

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

806 1,002 1.2
Usual over-egging of the pudding. If the app costs zero pence initially, there should be NO assumption that the app has any features at all.

Regarding selling to children, I guess it really matters on what a "child" is in this case. I'm quite happy going after a kids pocket money by tempting him with a great game, so why is an iap so bad? If these random kids that make the sensationalist sites are spending 20 trillion dollars on games, then their parents should not have allowed them to.

Parental responsibility isn't a wooly concept, even for those parents that have heard of it. If your kid spends $1,000 on a game, the parent is RESPONSIBLE to pay it. That's it really, this isn't a grey area.

Posted:A year ago

#1

Jason Sartor
Copy editor/Videographer

104 33 0.3
"employ tactics that persuade children to appeal to their parents for money - unlawful under the Consumer Protection (from Unfair Trading) "

Really? Does this mean the U.K. has no toy commercials, toys that come with food, play areas at restaurants, cereal ads, and on and on?

Maybe somebody can explain to us not in the U.K. how this law is applied and if it actually works.

Posted:A year ago

#2

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

806 1,002 1.2
It's not unlawful. There are a bunch of laws correctly protecting customers from mis-selling. However there is nothing fradulent about a game costing nothing to download but having payment options later on.

I would argue that expecting a customer to pay fully upfront without first having free access to the game, is a suspect business model and unfair trading practice.

I mean, come on. Here is what the complaints actually are:
"This is wrong, I gave my eight year old my credit card and login details and he ran up a big bill. That's YOUR fault, not mine. Fix it and give me my money back."

If people want to start banning stuff they don't like or understand, I think that anyone that gives their credit card credentials to an eight year old shouldn't be allowed either a credit card or an eight year old.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 12th April 2013 7:11pm

Posted:A year ago

#3

Matthew Hardy
Studying Multimedia/Game Design

39 100 2.6
Popular Comment
employing gambling techniques and mechanisms into your game to elicit money from children is wrong and will be the death of our industry if not corrected.

Posted:A year ago

#4

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

806 1,002 1.2
My brain just exploded. I'm not coming here anymore.

Posted:A year ago

#5

Paul Smith
Dev

189 148 0.8
Stupid parents.

Posted:A year ago

#6
Two of my kids have an iPod Touch each. Neither knows the password for my iTunes account (to which their devices are linked). Both devices have PIN protected restrictions enabled with IAP specifically turned off. It's quite simple and easy to do and I suggest any concerned parents consider similar taking similar measures. What an absolute non-issue.

Posted:A year ago

#7

Steven Wemyss
Senior QA Engineer

33 31 0.9
Popular Comment


Simple answer to why parents fall for this stuff is because they have utterly no idea...awareness level for non-tech savvy people is so low at the moment because Free2Play is a relatively new and frankly false term when they are anything but Free. So yep this should be the first point, we should be making more people aware of what these actually cost and how to avoid it unfortunately the people who make these games have no inclination whatsoever to do that themselves!

Posted:A year ago

#8

Adam Jordan
Community Management/Moderation

112 65 0.6
This irks me to no end.

Don't get me wrong I know there are some sly people out there, I know there are some rotten eggs out there but first and foremost the issue begins and ends with Parental consent and lack of supervision.

Now I know there are people here that are also parents, I am not a parent myself but I was raised well to know better.

"children from spending money on free-to-play games without parental consent."

If a child is spending money without parental consent then A) They have access to and knowledge of their parent's account details to use them (Not really anything the industry can do in that respect) B) They have been given their own bank account, which usually means they are old enough to look after their own money or the parent's thought it was wise enough to give them control over their own money.

Now some people argue that some games are aimed at kids but how do you know that all of the players are in fact kids? I bring this question up since Battlefield Heroes is a free to play game aimed at the younger generation (13-17 year olds) yet most of the players are aged between 20-86. The youngest ever was 6 years old and he was supervised by his father.

The problem isn't to do with games making kids buy stuff, the problem is that the kids will do whatever they can to buy stuff, which in itself is a lack of discipline or disrespect to their parents.

When I was a kid, I would NEVER dare use my parent's cards or take money from them without their consent first. I would ask and if they said no, that was it. Most kids these days only know how to demand with the words "I want!" rather than ask with "Could I have"...again that's not an issue the industry can address, that's only something a parent can address.

@Steven Wemyss:

Free2Play is not a false term. It's simply one misunderstood by the general population. Free2Play is essentially...you can download the full game for free with no strings attached. You register for free and you can get some content for free. Naturally if done right, everything within the game is available, you just need to play the game to earn and unlock it...however if you want the item instantly or don't have the time to unlock it and just want to use the item in-game then you pay for it.

League of Legends is the staple and shining beacon of how Free2Play games should be. Everything is available as long as the player is willing to play several hours a day. They even give you some of their real cash currency for completing the tutorial, which can be used to buy a champion or two (If there is a sale)

However if you wish to unlock a champion instantly or grab a deal on quite a few champions then you can grab their bundles by using real cash.

My point is...people lump all Free2Play games into one basket without looking at all the facts first and trust me, if someone is really adamant about not giving the developer/publisher of the Free2Play game any of their money then by god they will find a way to play it for free or as the term is coined now "Become a freeloader"

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Adam Jordan on 13th April 2013 11:38am

Posted:A year ago

#9
Somewhat surprised this did not happen sooner. Mr brother did a column about the Smurfgate scandal for Develop 2 years ago in which he concluded:



I guess OFT has decided to discuss these boundaries now.

http://www.develop-online.net/blog/186/Understanding-Smurfgate

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nick Gibson on 13th April 2013 11:36am

Posted:A year ago

#10

Anthony Gowland
Lead Designer

172 525 3.1
Free2Play is a relatively new and frankly false term when they are anything but Free
You're wrong - the majority of people playing any particular f2p game are playing it for free.

Posted:A year ago

#11

Keldon Alleyne
Handheld Developer

430 405 0.9
Popular Comment
The flaws of the human mind should not be systematically exploited.

When you have a game designed solely around exploiting subjects in such a manor it is simply unethical.

Sure a certain amount of seductive diversions should be allowed to persuade consumers to consider your product and then coax them into making a purchase and committing to it with a good sales strategy, but such exploitative tactics are not justified.

We're too sophisticated to blindly use words with known positive connotations to describe intentions and actions that are clearly nefarious. "A rose by any other name still smells as sweet," meaning that it is not how something is described that matters, it is what it is - plain and simple.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Keldon Alleyne on 13th April 2013 2:05pm

Posted:A year ago

#12

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

806 1,002 1.2


I've never understood that either tbh, but it's irrelevant in any case. Kid asks parent for 70 bucks of berries. Parent says no. End of story. Really, what else is there to talk about?

Posted:A year ago

#13

Curt Sampson
Sofware Developer

596 359 0.6
Usual over-egging of the pudding. If the app costs zero pence initially, there should be NO assumption that the app has any features at all.
If you want your industry to be despised and avoided by consumers, anyway.

There seems to be an attitude amongst a lot of you that dealing with even borderline scammers is the parents' problem and, if the parent makes a mistake in this area because he simply doesn't know as much about the industry and technology as those of you who work in it, that's the parent's problem.

The only thing I can't figure out is why you guys are so quiet when the subject of EA comes up, rather than defending their behaviour just as loudly.

Personally, the way I think about approaching consumers is, "what if I had to give a refund to anybody who asked, no matter the reason?" How much time would I want to waste giving out refunds? I then design my systems so that I'm providing real value to them that they find worth paying for.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Curt Sampson on 14th April 2013 3:15am

Posted:A year ago

#14

Christopher Bowen
Editor in Chief

405 539 1.3
Look, we can't have this both ways.

We can't, on one hand, say that it's a parent's job to do something about telling their children that violent games are not for them, and teaching them right, and putting all of that onus on the parents so as not to get legislated out of our pants, while on the others, absolving all parental responsibility towards their childrens' purchases on a phone that, frankly, should have been locked down to avoid these types of purchases. Is it the parent's phone? Put on a strong password and don't give it to the kids. Is it the child's phone? Forbid that user account from IAP.

Either we have a nanny state or we don't. But we can't have our cake and eat it, too.

Posted:A year ago

#15

Keldon Alleyne
Handheld Developer

430 405 0.9
Popular Comment
@Christopher: the same rationale can be applied to substance misuse.

We are manipulating human behaviour and exploiting its shortcomings to a high degree to trick them into either destructive or unwanted behaviour. The fact that people protest after is good indication of whether they are happy with the 'decision'.

We know that people aren't pulling out their calculators and spending hours of time grabbing metrics to make their buying decisions. We are still incredibly simple creatures, the very existence of Wonga is only testament to this.

And don't get me started on Wonga. Abusing people with low IQ's and an inadequate aptitude for maths, memory, planning, thinking and reasoning for a profit. That is just plain wrong. We need to grow up as a culture and stop trying to justify this. At least come out and just say, "yeah, we are exploiting people's shortcomings for a profit. We are feasting on their stupidity, gullibility and susceptibility to our mysterious journey that causes them to put themselves out of pocket by luring them into a false sense of trust of the value of our products".

Not to say that there should be no f2p, just expense should never be made beyond the expectations of the consumer. A disclaimer does not justify the profit. People need to be unequivocally aware, and we know that some companies make a living off of people being unaware.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Keldon Alleyne on 14th April 2013 4:20pm

Posted:A year ago

#16

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

806 1,002 1.2
Spending money is NOT destructive behaviour. I dunno about anyone else, but I love doing it.

You don't need to trick me, make something I enjoy and I will gladly give you some. WotC have had about $10K out of me so far and I don't regret a penny.

Posted:A year ago

#17

Curt Sampson
Sofware Developer

596 359 0.6
Spending money is NOT destructive behaviour.
It depends on who it is, what they're spending it on, and why they're spending it.

I've put almost $500 in to World of Tanks over the last six months, which I think is a bit ridiculous. But I've come to terms with it, and don't regret it terribly; while it's a first for a game (as opposed to, say, a new PC) to consume some 20% of my yearly gaming budget, I can afford it and I've gotten a lot of entertainment from the expenditure.

However: using psychological tricks to extract money from people that they'll later regret spending is simply slimy behaviour. And if people working in the gaming industry don't speak up against this, the industry, or at least the F2P side, is going to acquire notoriety up there with people selling time-shares. People like Paul who appear not to care, taking the attitude, "they gave us their money, that's all I care about, and any fallout or regrets are someone else's problem," are what's going to do that if we let them.

Posted:A year ago

#18

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

806 1,002 1.2
>> It depends on who it is, what they're spending it on, and why they're spending it.

Not really. The whole point of money is to spend it.

Using phrases like "psychological tricks" is so disingenuous it makes my head spin. Are you seriously telling me you have no intention of advertising your game? Putting the best screenshots on the box? Bolding the three best words of a 10,000 word review? Having a sale? Fretting over the price to get the most sales? Trying to get an end aisle slot in Walmart? the list goes on and on and I'm calling you on it.

Posted:A year ago

#19

Jason Avent
VP, Studio Head

139 140 1.0
Popular Comment
Parents do need to take the time to understand F2P games even if it's that they ban their children from buying IAPs. However we also need to self regulate for a steady state of moral fairness or ultimately two bad things will happen:

1) People will be at best suspicious of our games and at worst form a hatred of them and not play.
2) Governments will come in with heavy handed regulation that stops us being competitive.

It's FAR better that we're smart about this and we draw our own lines as developers and create a balanced experience and a reasonable business model.

Posted:A year ago

#20
I saw one of the BBC newsreaders asking why apps weren't subject to the distance selling regs.

I despaired.

Posted:A year ago

#21

Alex Comer
Technical Designer

9 14 1.6
Spending money is NOT destructive behaviour. I dunno about anyone else, but I love doing it.
Paul, it's not you anyone is worried about. I'm sure you're a self-disciplined person who only spends money after making completely rational value decisions. Not everyone is as lucky as you; not everyone has these skills.

The entire F2P business model is based upon a small number of people who spend a disproportionate

Posted:A year ago

#22

Keldon Alleyne
Handheld Developer

430 405 0.9
What Jason said is spot on.

---
Spending money is NOT destructive behaviour. I dunno about anyone else, but I love doing it.
You kidding me. First of all that is NOT what I said. Though I'm unsure what exactly you're attempting to declare as spending money on crystal meth and failing to pay your essential bills and getting thrown out of your house IS destructive, is it not? Sure as hell is not productive I believe. So spending money can be part of destructive behaviour, wouldn't you agree?

Therefore the statement that, "spending money is not destructive" is demonstrably false.
You don't need to trick me, make something I enjoy and I will gladly give you some. WotC have had about $10K out of me so far and I don't regret a penny.
Great, but the point is that many people are duped and need to be tricked. Responsibility rests in the hand that has the most influence in the situation, which in this case is the developer. I am NOT (and I repeat) I am NOT saying not to make a profit or to make money. What I AM saying is that a game should not be designed around tricks that lead to complaints about things (i.e. expenses) they did not EXPECT, which is a far cry from what you declaration of being happy with the spend.

---

Just a great example of how people work. Why do you think the cash machine ALWAYS gives you your card before your cash? Because a large number of people will take the cash and leave the card. Why? Because of a flaw in our task completion response that causes us to jump to our previous state before performing the "get money from machine" task. THAT is how simple we are, so after this was discovered in the 70's/80's the pattern we see today was adopted across the board.

Want to know why there are more organ donors in some European countries? and why those countries used to tie with England? Simple, because they switched from opt in to opt out. That is how flawed our decision making process is. People are donating organs not because they want to, but because of indecision.

---

What I am saying is that these flaws should not be exploited in some of the ways that we are seeing. We should be more responsible beings.

Posted:A year ago

#23

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

273 177 0.6
What I am saying is that these flaws should not be exploited in some of the ways that we are seeing. We should be more responsible beings.
And...
"employ tactics that persuade children to appeal to their parents for money - unlawful under the Consumer Protection (from Unfair Trading) "

Really? Does this mean the U.K. has no toy commercials, toys that come with food, play areas at restaurants, cereal ads, and on and on?

Maybe somebody can explain to us not in the U.K. how this law is applied and if it actually works.
Being responsible has never been a priority, appearing responsible and caring about "superior values" has always been an investment and a commercial argument, that is how it works for everyone.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 15th April 2013 1:26pm

Posted:A year ago

#24

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,148 928 0.8
I don't see a problem with the OFT investigating this.

Best we know now if there are any serious factors to consider rather than later. After all, yes, this is a more recent approach to trading and we probably haven't considered the full implications, including those on children.

Posted:A year ago

#25

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

273 177 0.6
I don't see a problem with the OFT investigating this.

Best we know now if there are any serious factors to consider rather than later. After all, yes, this is a more recent approach to trading and we probably haven't considered the full implications, including those on children.
Which is probably why, if individual companies don't consider those implications, one day and due to the ever growing volume of customer complaints an authority will step in and make those companies consider them. Now the problem being that even if 99.9% of the companies act fairly with respect and consideration, it takes only one company to act very bad for those restrictive regulations to happen, which could actually affect even the fair companies in a too restrictive way afterwards.

My belief (which is quite an utopia I recognize) there would be that, it has to be the industry (at least the responsible part of it) that actually work and invest into those regulation to become laws before someone with nearly no idea about the industry nor games push them to happen. That would definitely be showing how proactive and anticipating the industry is. But now to be realistic "why fix something when it is not broken ?" (which can be called improvement instead of fix, at least in my strange little world).

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 15th April 2013 2:59pm

Posted:A year ago

#26

Pier Castonguay
Programmer

189 106 0.6
Good

Posted:A year ago

#27

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