Office Of Fair Trading Not Happy With In-Game Purchases

By John Walker on September 26th, 2013 at 9:00 am.

The UK’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is to issue new guidelines (pdf) about in-app charges for gaming loosely aimed at children. “Is to”, which is news-speak for over-simplifying a story to make it sound like a proposal is a thing that’s definitely happening. (“Government is to chop the heads off all left-handed people” will read the headline, while the story reveals this was actually a proposal made by a window cleaner who leaned his head in during a meeting.) However, the body has put out a package of suggested guidelines for the industry, in an effort to stop publishers from ripping off customers/getting children to spend all their parents’ money. They’re hoping to put it into action in April, after consultation with grumpy publishers.

The proposals target not just mobile apps, but browser games and Facebook games – ie. all the most notorious places for the more insidious “micro-transactions”. The OFT looked at 38 games (although weirdly chose not to name any of them) and concluded that all was not well. In fact, they say that the games are likely to “breach consumer protection law.”

Having played these games, the OFT was left with a bunch of concerns:

• a lack of transparent, accurate and clear up-front information relating, for example, to costs, and other information material to a consumer’s decision about whether to play, download or sign up to a game
• misleading commercial practices, including failing to identify the practice’s commercial intent
• exploiting children’s inexperience, vulnerability and credulity, including by aggressive commercial practices
• including direct exhortations to children to buy advertised products or persuade their parents or other adults to buy advertised products for them
• payments taken from account holders without their knowledge, express authorisation or informed consent

There’s obviously greater concern that children are being manipulated by such games, especially when they can very easily repeatedly spend their parents’ money with a clicked “yes”. But they also want to see pricing made more clear for everyone, the first couple of their new principles suggesting that unavoidable subsequent costs of playing a game be made clear up front. They then want to see clearer contact information about the sellers be made available, with proper complaints procedures in place.

Their fourth suggestion is that in-game purchases should be distinct from other aspects of the game. I.e. that obfuscating what is free and what is paid for will no longer be acceptable, and what options within a game will take you to a purchase page be far more clearly stated. They also want to see games prevented from suggesting that payments are necessary to play when they really aren’t.

By the sixth suggested principle, things get to the core of the issues – aggressive and/or exploitative commercial practices. They say this means,

“Games should not include practices that are aggressive, or which otherwise have the potential to exploit a child’s inherent inexperience, vulnerability or credulity. The younger a child is, the greater the likely impact those practices will have, and the language, design, visual interface and structure of the game should take account of that.”

Speaking to the BBC, the OFT said they found games which were telling children that an animal was “ill”, and could only be helped by an in-app purchase. Which is undeniably full-blown scumbaggery. They also mention that games pretend that completing certain tasks will lead to rewards, but then withhold the reward until money is handed over. Coo, that makes me cross.

The seventh proposal seems like where they’ll certainly come unstuck in their deliberations with the people standing to lose money from these new rules. The OFT wants games aimed at children to remove instructions to “BUY MORE NOW!” when in-game funds run low, and not include easily tapped direct links to spend. Since that’s pretty much how the business model works, and since it could be argued that any non-adult certificated release could potentially be aimed at children, it seems implausible that the OFT will get there way here. Developers and publishers are likely already penning furious responses to this suggestion, and preparing their lobbying to ensure it never gets passed.

The final suggestion that no unauthorised payments be taken will be fine, though. That’s obviously in direct contravention of consumer laws. They want to make sure putting in a password to make a payment can’t then cover the next hour’s taps without your having opted into the password entry carrying over.

They are, overall, a very sensible set of suggestions and principles. But of course that’s not what makes for good policy in Madworld, and the game creators have until the 21st November to send in their “comments”. Or “lawyers”. It’ll be interesting to see what survives come next April 1st. A date that just happens to coincide with the final dissolving of the OFT into the Competition Commission, to create the new Competition And Markets Authority. It’ll be interesting to see if that buries any disappointment.

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88 Comments »

  1. lordcooper says:

    Up with this sort of thing.

  2. battles_atlas says:

    As long as it doesnt degenerate into some watered down farce like the ridiculous cookies notification that all websites had to carry for a while (still do?). We’ll probably end up with a new Terms and Conditions manual to ‘read’ (scroll through as fast as possible) before we’re allowed access to the same exploitative content as before.

  3. KingFunk says:

    Whilst there should be more parental responsibility involved (I’m expecting a certain amount of comments suggesting this is the answer) some of these practices appear to be darned immoral and need to be controlled. However, good luck imposing any such restrictions on devs from, say, South Korea… It also seems unlikely the government will be able to force the likes of Apple and Google into limiting access to ‘non-conforming’ devs/apps based on territory. Plus, the current government would most likely expression caution about doing so as it would ‘drive vital business out of the UK’ or somesuch. You know, like they always do.

    So maybe parental responsibility really has to be the answer, even though it shouldn’t have to be… Welcome to the 21st century!

    • maxi0 says:

      Parental responsibility can only go so far, which is one of the many reasons we have laws that protect the interests of the consumer.

      Besides, when we’re dealing with any issue revolving around technology, it’s incredibly common for even very young children to have a much better grasp of using devices than the parents do; not that this excuses the parent from full responsibility.

      The fact remains that there is a existing vulnerability that some developers are choosing to exploit regarding the billing of in-app purchases. A simple ruling that such purchases need to be individually verified by the account holder would go a long way to protecting the end user.

      • Gap Gen says:

        It’s also difficult to tell exactly how far games will go in demanding microtransactions. Sometimes a game just becomes very difficult or impossible without payments, and sometimes it just allows you to buy trinkets with little in-game impact. So if you’re a parent letting your kids play games on a phone/tablet (or hell, if they have their own) I imagine it’s pretty difficult to find games that get this balance right. Certainly before you let them download and play stuff you have to come to an agreement that they can’t use microtransactions/have a fixed cap per month/pay out of pocket money.

      • Banana_Republic says:

        Parental responsibility only needs to go so far as to not letting a child have unfettered access to a credit card, to prevent their children from falling victim to “exploitive” marketing practices. If that’s too much to ask, those parents probably aren’t qualified to own a credit card or raise a child.

        • bill says:

          It depends on the platform. With things like smartphones there is a pretty good chance that you don’t need the credit card, it will just automatically be charged to your account through google wallet or some such.

          There may be ways to avoid that, but it depends on the platform, version, app, and how the user has set up their phone.

          I never have to enter my credit card number to buy apps on Android, it’s a one click deal. Though I think the latest version of android introduced kids user accounts with restrictions on that. (If i have to let my kid use apps on my phone (and kids apps ALL seem to have microtransactions!) I tend to use a kids-sandbox-app like famigo).

        • Gap Gen says:

          A parent that turns off password control on app store purchases before giving their kids the machine probably shouldn’t be surprised if they get emptied out.

          • Sheng-ji says:

            Well, it’s not that simple – most parents don’t give their kids their own smartphone, and even if they did, the child won’t actually be able to open their own account. The parent buys the kid a game on their account, trusting that the kid will have to enter a password to enact a transaction. What they don’t realise, and the kid is well aware of is that when they purchased the kid a new app, they entered their password and that password remains entered for 15 minutes. Parent gives kid phone, kid hits the store, parent baffled as to how kid got password!

          • Gap Gen says:

            Ah, I didn’t realise that. I’ve never bought anything within 15 minutes of anything else on the Play store. So yeah, that should probably be something to be turned off. I suppose a generic “Child mode” button could be useful, that shuts off the ability to mess up the settings or whatever, too.

      • KingFunk says:

        In general, I agree – however I’m a bit ambivalent (I think ;-)) because declaiming the underhandedness of developers after not bothering to find out/take an interest in what your children are up to does seem a bit like passing the buck. I’m not a parent myself and I realise that modern life is very busy etc etc but the simple answer for the uninformed is not to give a child a device that is linked to your bank account. And if you don’t fully understand what is possible with your internet-connected device, don’t give it to your child until you’ve educated yourself because they will be able to figure it out.

        That said, the exploitation is deplorable, so my internal dilemma goes on…

    • harbinger says:

      You’d be surprised to know, but since “gaming” is a lot more serious business over in countries like Japan or South Korea since a much larger part of the population does it, they are actually a lot more sensitive on matters like this:
      For instance Japan has imposed restrictions against certain systems being used in games: http://www.serkantoto.com/2012/05/09/kompu-gacha-dena-gree-history/
      South Korea afaik was the only country where the Daiblo 3 Auction House wasn’t allowed to exist: http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/tech/2012/06/129_112964.html

      I’m happy that this kind of obvious exploitation is starting to get looked up more in the west.

      • harbinger says:

        China on the other hand is a hellhole in regards to this, watching this GDC talk about Chinese Microtransaction systems was really depressing: http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1016417/-100-000-Whales-An

      • KingFunk says:

        Hmm interesting point – I only chose South Korea arbitrarily. However, I suspect that both South Korea and Japan probably have governments that are less spineless/cosy with the private sector (depending on your point of view) than ours.

        I could be wrong, but I’m personally not confident that our government would shore up this obvious problem. In response to others, I also agree that parental responsibility can only go so far – my concern is that since I don’t believe in the government’s power/willingness to regulate, parental responsibility may be the only choice we have.

  4. maxi0 says:

    “it seems implausible that the OFT will get *there* way here”

    *makes tutting sound”

    On subject: Prior to reading this article, It seemed to me that there were two basic approaches to the inclusion of in-app purchases. The first, and less nefarious, is the ability to unlock new content for a small fee – such as spending 99p to unlock extra levels in a free game.

    Far more sinister are those apps which artificially restrict progress with timers – say a 24 hour build time for upgrades to a key building or tool – then allow users to spend their cash on an in-game currency which expedites said upgrade.

    I personally draw the line well before the second variety, which is why I am aghast at the suggestion there is a third, far more wicked approach: “Spend money now or the bunny dies!”.

    Of course, it should be noted that the BBC (amongst other corporations) uses a similar approach to raise money for charity.

    • lowprices says:

      I used to think the whole ‘energy’ thing was another awful gateing mechanism, but the an aunt was telling me about this exciting new game called ‘Candy Crush Saga’. When I started criticising free-to-play mechanics, specifically the energy meter, she remarked that she never though about it that way, but instead used it as a way to stop herself from playing the game for too long. Still, the way these things are marketed to children is pretty dire.

      • maxi0 says:

        Your aunt has chosen to live by the arbitrary time restrictions because she has a self-control that is probably lacking in most minors. The same can obviously be said of a great number of adults too, except they’re only accountable to themselves if they choose to purchase ‘energy’ or ‘gems’ out of impatience for enforced limits.

        Human beings are impulsive, curious animals, which is, to my mind, what makes this system of paid unlocks so nefarious – and indeed quite clever.

  5. Guvornator says:

    “They want to make sure putting in a password to make a payment can’t then cover the next hour’s taps without your having opted into the password entry carrying over.”

    Just out of interest, will this be just for these apps, or will it apply to digital content providers as well? Because I think I’d own a hell of a lot less games if steam asked for my password every Goddamn time I saw something cheap…

    • Cinek says:

      Sounds like a good thing to do.
      If you’re not bothered enough to enter a password – you probably just waste your money you’d spend otherwise better on beer/vodka/Johnny Walker.

    • LionsPhil says:

      You can at least tell Steam to not save payment information, although you have to remember to untick that box every singly time. That way you don’t end up buying things without the effort of digging out the plastic and triggering “this is spending money” thoughts.

      (I don’t know if it’s possible to make Steam forget the details again if you’ve ever let it save them. I would hope, but not necessarily expect, so.)

      • Gap Gen says:

        I’ve tended to go through Paypal, so I at least have to re-enter my password there. I’m a little hesitant about giving out my geographic location to every web service I sign up to.

  6. Shockeh says:

    Was anyone else not infuriated this morning by the various news outlets gleefully brushing over the fact that in every case, these children had the password to the accounts tied to these cards? If you left a child with your Debit/Credit card and your PIN and they racked up a bill, you’d be considered a total ******* idiot, and the general reaction would have been laughter at best. But suddenly it’s a major sticking point when they’re able to do IAP.

    I watched the BBC and ITV both do this this morning; they made huge uproar about how these sinister applications let you spend huge sums of money, and they both mentioned that the children had the password, but they did their very best to avoid making it a focus of the topic.

    • Cinek says:

      True. But on the other hand though – none on of the in-app purchase providers offer any ways of actually handling abuses or limiting the scope of them.
      Ever seen an option to limit IAP to X $ per month? Nope.
      Ever seen an option to cancel IAP after it’s been done? Nope.
      Ever seen an option to get money returned if promoted product was different than advertised? Nope.

      IAP are basically: All of the rights for companies, and no rights for customers. That’s ridiculous, and I don’t see anything wrong with OoFT trying to improve the situation.

      • President Weasel says:

        The BBC story does mention that it’s possible to change your settings but that many parents don’t know how, or that they should. While parents shouldn’t effectively leave their credit card details with their child, and while a tablet with internet connectivity is not a toy, it’s also true that many of these titles are aimed at kids and designed to squeeze money out of them. That’s morally questionable at best.

        That’s a good point about having more granular controls over credit card data usage on tablets and smartphones. It would be useful to be able to specify time and money limits. It would probably be a better idea though to not save your credit card details at all on something you’re letting your kids use unsupervised.

        • LionsPhil says:

          It would probably be a better idea though to not save your credit card details at all on something you’re letting your kids use unsupervised.

          Bingo. If they want something, they can do it the same way kids have wanted things for years: by asking for it (with various forms of emotional manipulation, natch).

          • Cinek says:

            And than we go to another problem – how easy it is to doze payments for IAP. It’s not at all. Current IAP systems by companies like Google, Apple, Valve are all designed around having your credit card permanently assigned to the account with no restrains on payments.
            Yes, not saving credit card details is sometimes an option (Valve does allow that, Apple and Google as far as I know – don’t) but giving that as a solution is ridiculous. You obviously don’t do much of an online payments if you think that re-typing the same credit card details 50 times (for each purchase made) is a doable scenario.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Payments should be slightly awkward. They’re payments. They an explicit authorization action, and with many purchases (especially the topical ones: software) they cannot be undone.

            If you can sleepwalk through paying for things (the hateful “have your card in the vague proximity of a reader” tech Visa are peddling comes to mind), don’t be surprised if you or anyone near your card makes you end up spending a lot.

          • MarcP says:

            I buy everything but groceries online these days, and this is precisely why I never save CC information. One extra minute going through the payment process is one more minute to think about my purchase and weed out impulse buys.

            Such features might be convenient but they aren’t there for your convenience.

          • KingFunk says:

            Also, don’t give your contactless payment card to your children and let them go to the pub… That’s advice for life!

    • bill says:

      I’ve never done an in-app purchase, so I don’t know if those require some kind of password (what password would that be?), but buying apps on Play Store doesn’t ask me for any kind of credit card details or password.

      there may be an option to turn that off, but I’ve never run across it.
      (haven’t had a reason to search for it yet.. but maybe when the sprog gets a bit older…)

  7. Random Gorilla says:

    Apple crack down on all kinds of pointless shit. Surely they should be looking into limiting in-game consumables too.

  8. HilariousCow says:

    Children A.K.A. Whales.

  9. Sheng-ji says:

    The App stores are the wild west, it seems anything goes and everyone is entirely washing their hands of the responsibility – I bought an app literally yesterday for my 3 year old son, which proudly proclaimed “No in app purchases” – this app was “written by” a well known childrens character and included tonnes of video of that character, clearly made specifically fore that app.

    On installing, the first thing you are presented with is a screen of in app purchases – Get Mr ****** singing this song for £5 or get this jigsaw for £3. Clearly by throwing the screen up first thing, they are hoping to get into that 15 minute authorised window. On contacting apple, I get a fast reply telling me that my purchase was most likely corrupted and to reinstall – I wonder if he had graduated from genius…. I contacted the BBC – this thing had Cbbeebies branding all over it – they passed me from pillar to post before denying they had anything to do with the app. I contacted the agent of the personality fronting the app who told me that their clients image had been used without permission and they were looking to get the app removed from the store (I played them a video of the personality welcoming the child to the app by the apps exact name but still wouldn’t admit to it).

    It’s not a problem, I have so many safety features in place – its an old phone with software on only for him so it is completely locked down and he couldn’t have purchased anything if he tried, but I just wanted to see if anyone could justify this and I am shocked by the washing of hands I witnessed.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Nice effort there! Bravo!

    • bill says:

      Which character? I’m pretty sure you can name them. (and as a dad of a Cbeebies mad kid, I’d like to know).

      I hope you (a) got a refund on the app and (b) gave them a 1 star review.

      • Sheng-ji says:

        OK, so story update – I’m happy to name the person now because I believe they had nothing to do with the app now: It was a Mr Tumble app with Justin Fletcher. What it seems happened is that Justin has a series of apps coming out and this app copied and pasted the description from the genuine apps, copied and pasted some footage from the TV and the existing apps and bunged it over a simple game and a super exploity microtransaction store. It was named so as to make it look like the video at the start was introducing it specifically to the app, but in fact was a sketch from Justins world. It is actually very clever! I can see how an average app creator can knock this out in a week or less, stealing easily obtained assets. I expect the game was stolen as well, in which case, turn that week into a day – it did star the Tiny tumble character so again, someone who knows what they are doing can just take the entire animation set easily.

        All credit to Justins agency too, who actually did take things seriously and tracked down where the video I mailed them came from! That app is now no longer functional and no longer appears on the app store, so all in all a bit of a win!

  10. hungrytales says:

    Yeah sure, Mr. Walker. Government offices (especially so hilariously funny named ones) will cure all our vicious ailments. I reckon your next dose of Monty Python Silly Walks sketch is long overdue.

    • Harlander says:

      You’re right, hungrytales, government intervention can never have a positive effect, and that’s why the Cuyahoga River keeps catching fire to this day.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Can’t you see how the invisible hand of the free market is already fixing the micropayments plague?

        • hungrytales says:

          The reason you don’t see anything is you either don’t believe that “the invisible hand of the free market” is just a mere way to call people making rational choices (A) or you don’t believe such a strange phenomenon of rationally behaving people is possible (B) or you believe both but you somehow see it as non-consequential opposite to a government intervention (C) which is non-consequential in reality (to the matter at hand, it’s plenty consequential in other, not by any means healthy, ways). You’d be wrong on all (A,B,C) accounts.

          • froz says:

            You are right. Obviously the free market already fixed the hole problem, we just can’t see it, blinded by our ideology.

    • Contrafibularity says:

      Ehm, stopping grifting and fraud does fall to government. Walker doesn’t say anywhere government will fix all ills, just that this initiative is welcomed, if done properly. It’s not like the industry is (capable of) regulating itself in this. I’m all for personal responsibility but come on, we all know it’s a free for all right now and that these things are in fact the digital analogue of things that are already illegal in the non-digital world, and with reason. You’ll have to come up with something better than that shibboleth to defend this kind of scamming and exploitation. Just because the entire “financial services” industry does it and keeps getting away with it and everyone is fine with that doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to this, it reflects poorly upon a remarkably creative and joyful art-form. More importantly, vulnerable people are suffering at the hands of this douchebaggery, whether it’s parents who will never get their money back or people with compulsive tendencies who are easily manipulated into spending large sums of money, even everything they have on what amounts to a manipulative, extortionate piece of malware. If you’re developing crap like this you should be honest with yourself and try to move on to better things, perhaps make something real for a change (don’t kid yourself that you can’t do it; that’s just a normal, healthy human sensation which all but the most fearless of artists have).

      • JamesTheNumberless says:

        I fear that the people making these apps don’t care. They’re not interested in making games, just in making money. When I was last looking for a job I lost count of the number of times I was asked by an agency about a studio that makes games with these sorts of manipulative monetizing strategies and had to explain that I would never be interested in those jobs because of the company’s ethics practices… But most importantly because I know I can’t motivate myself to work on a game that’s being made for profit first, and for any kind of creative vision second. Every design decision is driven by how well it can be monetized. Everyone else in the industry is capable of setting the same standards, but you will always be able to find somebody who is just as able to do the job, but who doesn’t care at all about games. In this way the free-market keeps the manipulators and the greedy in the game – so to speak.

      • hungrytales says:

        The only thing I defend is that people shouldn’t be treated as cattle that needs to be taken care of. That’s the sharp, dividing line between us, rightists and you, all decent, fighting the general douchebaggery of the world, all good-intentions-along-the-way-to-hell leftist chaps. Volenti non fit iniuria. People are not cattle. People think, people choose and then face the consequences. That makes them responsible. Or at least that makes them more responsible than when somebody with the God-given mission to cure All That Is Ill has just entered the picture and promised to sort it out for them. Then of course failed keeping that promise, because as it happens you can’t micromanage The Good, no matter how true your intentions (and, frankly, I have some serious doubts about the government officials concerning that), it’s just an emergent property of the individuals’ collective effort.

        So you still try and still end up with Silly Walks. And gullible or careless people end up being even more gullible, careless and eventually even more ripped off by the sharks that inhabit the actual, real world of grown-ups.

        • JamesTheNumberless says:

          The issue is protecting the vulnerable. That along with ensuring a fair society are conservative principles, not socialist ones. The actual “leftist” approach is to deny that the vulnerable exist.

          Have you noticed that sometimes there’s a middle ground? No, it’s really there, it’s not just an illusion covering a chasm. Oh come on, do try. It isn’t that scary to do politics without absolutes. I know it makes it harder for the politicians to convince you to follow them when there’s no clear-cut “side” to be on. That’s just a show put on to win over the more gullible voters. It isn’t really how the “grown up” world works.

          • Josh W says:

            “the actual leftist approach is to deny the vulnerable exist”? That’s a very silly thing to say, unless you have a strange and new definition of actual. If vulnerable people are mentioned at all, it is generally to emphasise dealing with their problems. Child poverty, disability support, equal access, pensions, winter fuel payments…

        • Lanfranc says:

          “Volenti non fit iniuria.”

          Sciens non est volens (and in many cases, these people aren’t even scientes).

        • Contrafibularity says:

          What nonsense. You know nothing of my views, political or otherwise. If there was a button I could push that would magically stop people being treated as cattle by governments, businesses and its fascist amalgamations alike I would press it immediately (and yes the button is a metaphor you shouldn’t take literally). If there was a button that would magically stop people treating cattle as they treat cattle, I would push that too, for that matter (again, metaphor ie not literal).

          The reality is that people do not exercise free will over much of their life, and some people even less than others. People with compulsive tendencies especially when it comes to risky behaviour such as gambling, can be easily manipulated into ruining their or their family’s lives. These people are not willing, or knowing, when you put them behind a game like Farmville or Candy Crush Saga. Their “consent” only exists in this case by virtue of being freely available to its exploiters, somewhat similar to that of a serious heroine addict (that’s not to say it’s impossible for them to exercise free will, but it does mean it’s tantamount to cruelty to pretend it’s easy or even realistically attainable for them to do so). That many of these games target audiences specifically for their inability to resist the coercive monetization mechanism in these software, like children, who have not developed the necessary cognitive abilities in their pre-frontal cortex, or compulsive personalities, whom F2P developers refer to as “Whales”, is something I think that should worry you more, being someone so heroically opposed to the treatment of people as cattle.

          As it stands it just sounds like you really, really aren’t thinking this through, and would rather pretend everyone possesses equal power to exercise free will in all matters, which is fantasy. It’s a lovely fantasy, it’s very romantic, but it’s not the truth. Don’t forsake what is for what ought to be.

    • Josh W says:

      Heh, my first reaction was “Yes, thank God we live in a social democracy!”, nice to see people’s knees jerk in the opposite direction, although as my legs are clearly on the right way round, you must be some kind of chicken walker.

  11. BlackAlpha says:

    I’m surprised more countries don’t come up with this kind of stuff. Like another poster said, App stores are like the wild west, anything goes, anything is permitted. Somehow it’s not okay to gamble away your money, but it’s perfectly fine to be manipulated into wasting your money through micro transactions.

  12. JamesTheNumberless says:

    I have mixed feelings. On one hand I helped make a successful F2P PC strategy game that I think does in-game payments very well – the trick is that the rewards from spending a lot of time playing the game, and playing it very efficiently, clearly outweigh the benefits of spending money. I obviously can’t say whether or not our top payers were winning.

    One of the things that I think worked well in that game was the fiercely competitive PVP nature of it. Casual players don’t invest crazy money when they know they might be wiped out at any moment. Moreover, hard core players who have already got the most out of the game in terms of hours of entertainment, for free, are the most likely to dabble in paying for the features that might help give them the edge over their enemies.

    There is also never a sense in which you feel you can’t play the game properly without spending, or that you’re missing out on features without spending. You’re never nagged, in fact the game was for most of its existence not the best at even drawing attention to the fact that you can actually spend money! Finally, the game isn’t aimed at children.

    On the other hand… I’ve played Candy Crush Saga :| If that’s your only experience of freemium then I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to ban all freemium games and burn the developers at the stake.

  13. Optimaximal says:

    What Apple/Google/Insert company here need to do is change their IAP APIs (say that 20 times fast!) so that if you turn them off, the buttons should disappear.

    I’ve turned them off on all the iDevices in our household, but the nag to spend 69p still appears (but will fail).

  14. JamesTheNumberless says:

    Another thought. When I was a kid, TV adverts were manipulative. Also, so were those leaflets you got in sets of Lego that advertised other sets of Lego. Even cartoons like Transformers were essentially reminding you of all the toys you didn’t have that you could get – so were other kids lunchboxes! The barrier to all of this was the realization that unless it was my birthday, or Christmas, I could forget about getting anything bought for me just because I wanted it :)

  15. ZHsquad says:

    “I gave my child my password – and my credit/debit card is linked to this iPad/whatever”. Well, you’re an idiot. Simple. Even if you’re not great with tech, stop being silly.

    Otherwise, I think this kind of advertising at children is very, very wrong. I personally think most forms of marketing to children (under the age of 10) is harmful. Maybe limits and laws will do some good. Doubt it, because the companies will lobby, but hey. Worth a shot.

  16. Arglebargle says:

    The crooks and morally threadbare are always drawn to the places with the least amounts of regulation, be it hedge funds or the ‘in ap’ wild west.

  17. Themadcow says:

    It’s not just kids that should be protected. The explosion in online gambling (yes, I’m also looking at you ‘Bingo’) also extends to Trading Card Games such as Rage of Bahamut (iOS and Android) which charges people £8 for the privelledge of opening one pack of digital cards which, in almost 99% of cases, will result in the player getting worthless cards that are of no use to them. People… kids, teenagers, adults… spend hundreds of pounds a month to fuel what is essentially gambling packaged up as app game.

    • ZHsquad says:

      “charges people £8 for the privelledge of opening one pack of digital cards which, in almost 99% of cases, will result in the player getting worthless cards that are of no use to them.”

      That sounds a lot like Magic cards. In fact, it is Magic cards. But online.

  18. trooperwally says:

    There’s a fair bit of scepticism in the comments and article and I can understand that because the public are let down daily by politicians. But aren’t we on safer ground here? This is existing legislation being applied and OFT giving people guidance on how to stay on the right side of the law. Of course the app bandits will hate it but judges are much less susceptible to lobbying than politicians (not least because they aren’t so easy to identify and because each wields less power) and it’ll be the judges who decide in the courts if a law has been broken when app bandits again try the ‘PAY TO SAVE THE ANIMAL’ tactic.

    TL;DR we can be positive, some lawyers are on our side

    Barely relevant…. this business about paying to make the bunny better reminds me of the adverts on the train saying things like “text £3 so that John can have a safe place to sleep tonight”. A fine idea for sure and there are websites to check up on a charity’s money management and transparency but I suspect that if I text £3 it’s not going to influence John personally. What does consumer protection law say about that? See also all the televised fundraisers.

    • bill says:

      The OFT (which sadly John implier is about to be wound down) has usually been a very good thing for consumers.

      After living in a few other countries, I can honestly say that most people in the UK don’t know how lucky they are when it comes to consumer protection and rights. Many things that UK people take for granted are unheard of in other countries, and many battles that the UK consumer won a long time ago have never even been mentioned in other places.

  19. trjp says:

    The problem is that even the ‘reputable’ companies doing this are basically taking-the-piss in terms of how easy it is to buy content and the STUPID sums they’ll allow people to spend (Lots of nonsense points – £70 – FUCKING WHAT!?)

    The solution is for anyone offering DLC services to enable account based options for

    1 – disable all purchases
    2 – limit purchase value/day-week-month
    3 – enable everything

    Most just offer 1 or 3 – most parents don’t want to be bugged constantly so they choose 3 – shit hits fan (see woman who’s son ran-up £2K bill on XBL – man who spent same on CCSaga etc.)

    Publishers should also have a code which sets out things like “£70 purchases are fucking ridiculous – stop it”. I’d also like to see a “maximum spend per game” pledge – I played a game last week which had a ‘buy everything once-and-for-all” option at $10 which I thought sounded eminently fair (but would kill the income of many mobile games stone-dead)

    What worries me is that all we’re likely to get here are ‘stupid rules’ which make no sense and are easily ‘gamed’. We really need the industry to get it’s house in-order ASAP because pretty-much-EVERYONE is taking the piss in some way and a voluntary code would work better (and highlight the less scrupulous companies quickly too)

    Note: it’s the same problem we had with arcades – people pumping coins into machines – only the arcade is in your pocket and the coins don’t have to be carried in a bucket…

    • bill says:

      Exactly. Putting high value purchases in any game should be limited, but in kids games it should be totally out of order. Maybe a maximum in-app purchase code of conduct?
      For example: 10 kids games with in app purchases over 70 quid:
      http://www.theguardian.com/technology/appsblog/gallery/2013/jun/07/kids-apps-in-app-purchases
      and they include a lot of ‘legitimate’ apps from big-name IPs who should know better.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      Many of these games can simply demonstrate by the number of players they have, who’ve paid thousands of dollars each and are perfectly happy with their purchases, that there is a real demand. All they’re doing is meeting that demand. I have no problem with anyone spending their life savings on a game if that’s what they really want to spend them on. What else are you going to do with that cash? Put down a deposit on a house that the bank takes back when you’re dead? Drugs and hookers?

      My Dad pointed out to me the other day, in defense of “whales”, that he pays about £2k a year for his Golf club membership. Some people spend a lot more than that at the pub in the course of a year. If an adult decides his hobby is worth spending that much money on, then that’s up to him.

      Neither IAP nor DLC are inherently wrong. Conversely, manipulative marketing, especially to those with reduced ability to resist (i.e. children) , is terribly wrong. So I am definitely keen on the idea of trading standards being enforced. I’m more skeptical about whether that’s possible. The unscrupulous will always find a way to be unscrupulous.

  20. JamesTheNumberless says:

    BUY GEMS OR THE KITTEN DIES!

  21. The Random One says:

    Yes, this is all very important, but we need a pun thread! I think capitalism as wordplay theme has a lot to offer and demand we make some.

  22. JamesTheNumberless says:

    Wait, I’ve got it!

    People need to socialize, right?

    Let’s open a sort of house where the public can go and sit and socialize. Call it a “public house”. It’s free to get in, and you can talk as much as you like.

    Then (this is the clever bit), we provide drinks, with alcohol in them, which by removing people’s inhibitions speeds up the process of socializing for those willing to pay. We can have regular drinks and charge £5 for them. Drinks with fruit and little umbrellas in them and charge £7 for those. We can even have a huge bottle of fizzy drink that costs £1,000 and people will buy it.

    Now then, should we let children in?…

    • The Random One says:

      Your idea doesn’t monetize well. Where is the paywall? Maybe if we gave drinks for free and charged to use the bathroom.

      • JamesTheNumberless says:

        Now that would be bad freemium. That would be Candy Crush freemium, that’s actually a perfect illustration. Whereas my example is of a good freemium game :)

        • JamesTheNumberless says:

          The drinks aren’t essential and I know more than one guy who doesn’t drink, yet goes to the pub with his friends/colleagues and enjoys it as much as they do. But the drinks, for most of us, enhance the experience and perhaps assist with certain mechanics of the game, such as chatting up somebody you fancy, picking a fight, and getting to sleep easily.

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            Oh and it *does* monetize well. It monetizes incredibly well because the game itself is awesome. Not because of any underhanded manipulation or trickery.

  23. nitehawk says:

    I came here to see if there was a pun thread as we are OFT to do.

  24. Chaz says:

    Unfortunately, whilst these suggestions remain “guidelines” I suspect that they will most likely go ignored. Where profits are involved, we have seen time and time again that unless proper legislation is brought in, that this sort of thing will just be ignored whole sale. Pretty much in the same way that the energy companies ignored the last lot of guidelines to reduces the cost of energy for the average consumer. Or the guidelines laid down for the big corporates to pay their fair share of taxes. I think Google nailed this current “greed is king” attitude when they basically said “If you want us to pay more taxes, then make us pay it.” The government response, “We’re going to put more pressure on them.” Fat lot of good that will do. Unless they actually make changes to the law, all these guidelines and advice, may as well count for naught.

  25. Josh W says:

    I like the idea of games makers being forced to represent their commercial intentions, “free to play” becomes “paid for in tiny optional chunks”.

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