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The UK’s Office of Fair Trading has today published its final “principles” for free-to-play games, after starting an investigation back in April last year. Publishers have until April 1st to comply to the regulations or their titles breach UK consumer law and may result in legal action … 

The 23 page document states that game developers must make users aware of any potential costs upfront. Notices regarding the use of personal data for marketing must also be made clear. The user of the game must also ensure that the payment is authorised by the account holder before any transaction takes place.

Many of the requirements in the document are quite broad in their definition and are likely to affect thousands of titles in the App Store. For instance, the document says that games should not “include direct exhortations to children to make a purchase.” Depending on how strictly this wording is applied, many games on the store today likely violate these rules.

From April 1st, these rules will apply to any software titles that incorporate in-app purchases available in the UK. Consultation on these rules opened in September last year. The OFT said:

‘The on-line and apps based games industry has already made significant improvements during our consultation process. But it still needs to do more to protect children and treat its customers fairly.

‘Our principles make clear the type of practices that games makers and platform operators should avoid.

‘Parents and carers have an important role to help protect their child and their bank balance. Our advice is that parents check their device settings, play their child’s games themselves and read the game’s description online. Parents will also be encouraged to report concerns to Citizens Advice

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2 Responses to “UK watchdog finalizes rules for free-to-play games, requires compliance by April 1st”

  1. Makes sense – all too frequently, “free to play” is a misleading euphemism for “after a brief introductory period, game progress slows down to a crawl as the game presents increasingly intrusive demands for real money payment in order to restore some semblance of playability.”

    At which point I delete the game. ;-p


  2. Right now, I tend to avoid IAP like the plague it usually is (I also find nickel-and-diming and demands for payment to be annoying and obnoxious interruptions of workflow and gameplay.)

    I might be less averse to it if the IAP requirements were presented clearly and completely up front.

    Apple could definitely require a clear summary of what you can do in an app with and without IAP, and should certainly require disclosure of the IAP costs of anything depicted in a screen shot (as in OFT’s example of a stable game where the screen shot is full of “premium” horses which require IAP.)