OFT consults on new principles for in-app purchases

September 26, 2013

The Office of Fair Trading has announced a consultation on new principles for in-app purchases.  The consultation follows an investigation launched in April 2013.

The OFT has concerns about in-app charges. It says that it has seen suggestions of potentially unfair and aggressive commercial practices under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, which implemented the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive.

It is particularly concerned that such practices have a disproportionate effect on children, providing the example of games implying the player would be letting other players or characters down in some way if they did not obtain something by making an in-game purchase.

Its other areas of concern are:

  • a general lack of transparent, accurate and clear up-front information about costs and other information that may have an 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.

It has proposed the new principles, which if adopted, would apply to apps and internet browser-based video games available via Facebook and elsewhere.  The principles include the following points:

  • All material information about the game, its costs and the business should be clear, accurate, prominent and provided up-front, before the consumer begins to play, download or sign up to it or agrees to make a purchase.
  • The commercial intent of any in-game promotion of paid-for content, or promotion of any other product or service, should be clear and distinguishable from gameplay.
  • A game should not mislead consumers by giving the false impression that payments are required or are an integral part of the way the game is played, if that is not the case.
  • Games should not include practices that are aggressive, or which otherwise have the potential to exploit a child’s inherent inexperience, vulnerability or credulity.
  • A game should not include direct exhortations to children to make a purchase or persuade others to make purchases for them.
  • Payments should not be taken from the payment account holder unless authorised.

The consultation ends on 21 November 2013.