The UK's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is warning app and game developers that high-pressure monetization in programs that are aimed at children needs to be avoided going forward. The OFT made its announcement today after months of investigation (which began in April) into allegations that some free online apps and games for children were using questionable tactics to get children to purchase in-game items – often without parental consent. The OFT examined 38 games related to this practice and drafted a set of guidelines for UK developers.
The eight principles are all opposed to monetization strategies that put undue pressure on younger players who are often playing on devices with linked accounts to credit cards. The OFT has also mandated that games specifically geared towards children must boldly disclose any in-game payment options or advertising, and that all payments can only be possible with the informed and express consent of a parent or guardian.
"This is a new and innovative industry that has grown very rapidly in recent years, but it needs to ensure it is treating consumers fairly and that children are protected," said Cavendish Elithorn, executive director of the OFT. "The way the sector has worked with us since we launched our investigation is encouraging, and we've already seen some positive changes to its practices. These principles provide a clear benchmark for how games makers should be operating. Once they are finalized, we will expect the industry to follow them, or risk enforcement action."
"This is a global industry so we're also sharing our principles with our enforcement partners worldwide with the goal of achieving some common international standards," Elithorn added.
UKIE CEO Jo Twist welcomed the rules from the OFT:
"All Ukie members take their responsibility to their players, particularly children, very seriously and are fully committed to complying with all legal obligations," said Jo Twist, CEO of the British trade body Ukie. "We welcome any guidance from the OFT to clarify how they are interpreting the law and shall be taking our time to digest the proposed guidelines before responding fully to the OFT's consultation.
"Consumers are now often able to download and play the latest games for free. In-app purchasing is optional within many of these games and is a way for millions of players to access the extra content that they want. The games industry takes its responsibility to children very seriously and most devices and digital marketplaces have safeguards in place, such as password locks and parental controls, that can prevent children from being able to access in-app purchases."