Office of Fair Trading Publish In-App Purchase Principles For Game Developers

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The OFT’s (Office of Fair Trading) final eight principles for what it calls “online and app-based games” have been published today. The video-game industry is expected to comply to these principles for in-app content sales by 1st April.

They are designed to be a guide to help games business sell in-app content responsibly, particularly where the game is likely to be played by children. The principles are an interpretation of existing consumer protection rules which govern how companies are allowed to market and advertise products to children and consumers across sectors, not just the games industry.

In a statement today, Ukie CEO, Dr Jo Twist, responded to the guidelines saying, “We identified the issues of responsible in-app purchasing in children’s games some time ago through our membership and we’ve been working closely with the OFT since they first announced their investigation to make sure that they heard from as many games businesses as possible.

“It’s important that we help both the OFT and games businesses understand how new business models should work within existing rules around consumer protection, advertising and marketing because companies want to and believe they are already doing the right thing by their players. Brand trust is paramount to them.

“We need to make sure we balance the opportunity and growth of innovative business models in the industry with sensible measures to protecting players. We are pleased to see the OFT recognise that parents need to be more aware of and use parental controls that are available on devices. Protecting consumers is a shared responsibility across those who make and sell games, as well as parents and carers.”

“Done responsibly, micro-transaction based business models give choice and value for both players and businesses. Flexibility for companies to operate different business models is crucial, and it is good to see the OFT recognise this. We will work with the OFT on briefing sessions for games companies to better understand the application of the principles.”

The OFT also published guidance for parents concerned about in-app purchases:

  • Check the ‘payment options’ settings on their device. One option is to make sure that a password is required for every purchase, rather than opening a ‘payment window’ in which the password will not be needed for any further payments.
  • Check whether there are any in-game purchases or whether the game contains a social element by looking at its description on the app store or the game’s website.
  • Play the game themselves to understand what children will see.
  • Be aware that game content could change via automatic updates, so check regularly that they continue to be happy with their children playing a game.

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