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Office of Fair Trading warns devs on high-pressure monetisation

Drafts eight principles for free-to-play games aimed at children

The Office of Fair Trading has instructed game developers to avoid high-pressure monetisation techniques in games aimed at children.

The OFT's stance follows an investigation - which began in April - into free online apps and games for children. After examining 38 different games, the OFT has drafted a eight "principles" that developers should follow to avoid the possibility of coercing younger gamers into spending money on free-to-play games.

"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," said Cavendish Elithorn, executive director of the OFT.

"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.

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

The eight principles are still open to change, but they are strictly opposed to any monetisation strategies that put undue pressure on young gamers. They also mandate that games aimed at children should indicate any in-game payment options or advertising from the outset, and that all payments should only be possible with the informed consent of a parent or guardian.

The OFT has claimed that its investigation found a number of games that employed, "potentially unfair and aggressive commercial practices," specifically those that linked the inability to pay to, "letting other players or characters down." In general, the OFT found that developers could be doing more to make payment mechanics more transparent, and to distinguish between real and virtual currencies.

"All Ukie members take their responsibility to their players, particularly children, very seriously and are fully committed to complying with all legal obligations," said Jo Twist, CEO of the British trade body Ukie. "We welcome any guidance from the OFT to clarify how they are interpreting the law and shall be taking our time to digest the proposed guidelines before responding fully to the OFT's consultation.

"Consumers are now often able to download and play the latest games for free. In-app purchasing is optional within many of these games and is a way for millions of players to access the extra content that they want. 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."

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Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.
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