OFT opens investigation into 'free apps' that allow children to buy in-game content

 

Free iPads and smartphones games which can leave parents facing hefty bills due to their children purchasing costly in-game features are to be investigated by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) over whether children are being unfairly pressured to pay for such content.

The OFT has written to companies of free web and app-based games asking for information on their in-game marketing to children in order for the investigation to explore whether these games are misleading, commercially aggressive or unfair. One particular area of interest is ‘direct exhortations’ to children - which constitutes a strong encouragement to make a purchase,  to do something that makes a purchase a necessity, or to persuade parents or other adults to buy something for them. This practice is against the law under the Consumer Protection (from unfair trading) Regulations 2008.

There have been numerous examples of children managing to spend thousands of pounds on in-game extras , in one case five-year-old Danny Kitchen from Bristol racked up a bill of £1,700 on the game Zombies vs Ninja, downloaded from iTunes, in which players can purchase weapon upgrades for as much as £69.99 a time. The money was later refunded by Apple.

In another example twice-capped England rugby union player Sam Vesty told BBC Radio 5 Live that his two sons had spent £3,200 in under three hours on the game Tiny Monsters, after 54 purchases of a “mountain of food” at £69.99 a go.

While not having estimated the size of the market the OFT said that earlier this week  80 of the 100 top-grossing Android apps were free to download but raised revenue through the purchase of in-game content.  According to Ofcom, 28 per cent of children aged five to 15 had access to a smartphone, with many more having access to a parent's device.

Cavendish Elithorn, OFT Senior Director for Goods and Consumer, said: “We are concerned that children and their parents could be subject to unfair pressure to purchase when they are playing games they thought were free, but which can actually run up substantial costs.

“The OFT is not seeking to ban in-game purchases, but the games industry must ensure it is complying with the relevant regulations so that children are protected. We are speaking to the industry and will take enforcement action if necessary.”

While parents and consumer groups are also being asked to supply the OFT with information about misleading or commercially aggressive practices, the initial investigation will not cover one concern raised by many parents, the ease at which extras can be purchased if a device is already logged in to the Android or Apple stores. It will however assess whether the full cost of these games is made clear when they downloaded or accessed. 

Martin Lewis, the founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said it was "disappointing" that apps aimed at children have been allowed to charge "ridiculous amounts" for extra features.

Mr Lewis said: "When games such as My Little Pony, which are obviously targeted at young children, bait kids with £69 purchases of a 'mountain of gems', something is going wrong in the system".

The OFT expects to publish its next steps by October 2013.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

    £40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

    £20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

    Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer / Web Designer

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leader in the e-cigarette ...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

    £32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

    Day In a Page

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory