The OFT, in-app purchasing and you
What do the OFT's principles around in-app purchasing mean for the UK games industry? Jo Twist gives Ukie's view.
In general, these principles are welcome. The OFT hasn't introduced new laws, but are offering guidance as to how it sees existing consumer protection legislation being applied in this area. Anyone working in TV advertising or retail will already be very familiar with these rules.
As far as our members are concerned, they of course want to operate within the law and we're sure the same can be said of the majority of businesses making or selling games in the UK - especially those aimed at children. Any clarity these principles can offer to developers wishing to comply with the law can only be considered a positive outcome.
We also appreciate the OFT's approach in creating these principles. The debate over the regulation of in-app purchases is playing out in several countries already, and the UK laws that the OFT is applying are based on an EU-wide directive that all member states should recognise. Some European OFT-equivalents have pursued a more aggressive legal route: for example, the German consumer body VZBV has taken GameForge to court on the basis that Runes of Magic included direct exhortations to children to buy upgrades for their characters. This was judged under the exact same European directive that the OFT is enforcing, as interpreted through UK law. GameForge has now been through three levels of the German court system - a process that has taken nearly a year - and is appealing against the latest ruling from the Federal Court of Justice. While court actions may still happen here, the OFT's willingness to talk to the industry so that it understands how emergent business models within our sector actually work is clearly preferable.
Of course, some questions remain over the way the principles will be understood in a legal sense, and one of the biggest concerns is that the UK games industry will become isolated due to an overly strict interpretation. We have clearly stated to the OFT since the beginning of their investigation that the principles should not prevent UK players - both adults and children - from accessing the games they want to play, stifle the creativity of our developers, or prevent the growth of the national industry in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. The OFT has clearly stated that this is not their intention, but we shall be very closely monitoring how the principles are applied.
However, the job is not done. Part of the reason trade associations exist is to provide a collective voice and to educate policy makers and regulators to ensure that business and innovation is not hampered unnecessarily - we'll continue to do so on this across this issue and any others that may arise. We'll also be making sure that games businesses have a full understanding of the principles. This will start with a session that we're hosting with the OFT at our offices on the morning of the February 20. You can register to come along here.