Computer games manufacturers are exploiting children through so-called “freemium” games, the consumer watchdog has warned. It has told games firms to fall into line with a new set of fair principles, published today, or face fines.
The Office of Fair Trading launched an investigation earlier this year into the growing in-game purchase industry where young people are encouraged to spend millions of pounds for extras while playing online and app-based games.
One report estimated that parents have been forced to stump up an extra £30m in the last year after their children accessed their smartphones and iPads and used them to play games and buy extras.
The OFT investigation discovered that some games include potentially unfair and aggressive commercial practices “exploiting children’s inexperience, vulnerability and credulity”. For example, some games imply the player would be letting other players or characters down if they did not make an in-game purchase.
The investigation also warns of payments being taken from account holders without their consent. Cavendish Elithorn, OFT executive director, said: “This is a new and innovative industry that needs to ensure it is treating consumers fairly and that children are protected.”
The watchdog wants game players to be told upfront how much playing the game is likely to cost. That effectively means an end to the misleading practice of drip-pricing, when a price is advertised for the game but players are asked to pay more if they want to complete it.