The European Commission has indicated it wants to stop games calling themselves free if they rely on micrortansactions to make money.
Technially the terrm free-to-play is accurate: it doesn’t cost any money to play these games, but if you actually want to get anywhere in them or, you know, enjoy yourself then you’re going have to pay for in-app purchases and microtransactions.
But following a less than approving investigation by the UK’s Office of Fair Trading it seems as if Brussels is now also looking to tighten up regulations, especially when it comes to ‘misleading’ advertising.
As the European Comission points out there have been complaints from all over the EU, with German authorities already having banned advertising for some online games.
‘Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model and also goes against the spirit of EU rules on consumer protection’, said justice commissioner Viviane Reding.
‘The European Commission will expect very concrete answers from the app industry to the concerns raised by citizens and national consumer organisations.’
Ministers have already suggested that they will ban the term ‘free-to-play’ unless the game really is completely free, i.e. it makes its money from in-game advertising instead.
‘The use of the word ‘free’ (or similar unequivocal terms) as such, and without any appropriate qualifications, should only be allowed for games which are indeed free in their entirety, or in other words which contain no possibility of making in-app purchases, not even on an optional basis’, says a Commission statement.
As with the Office of Fair Trading the primary concern seems to be advertising to children, following numerous stories in the press of kids ‘accidentally’ spending hundreds of pounds on in-app purchases.
The Commissions other priorities are laid out as follows:
- Games advertised as ‘free’ should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved.
- Games should not contain direct exhortations to children to buy items in a game or to persuade an adult to buy items for them.
- Consumers should be adequately informed about the payment arrangements and purchases should not be debited through default settings without consumers’ explicit consent.
- Traders should provide an email address so that consumers can contact them in case of queries or complaints.