Free-to-play games ordered to address misleading, exploitative practices by UK government

The UK's Office of Fair Trading announced eight principles free-to-play games must adhere to by April 1.

The UK's Office of Fair Trading has issued eight principles free-to-play game makers must follow in order to protect consumers, especially children, from misleading and exploitative commercial practices.

"These Principles clarify the OFT’s view of the online and app-based games industry’s obligations under consumer protection law," the OFT document reads. "Following our market investigation in 2013, we had concerns that there were industry-wide practices that were potentially misleading, commercially aggressive or otherwise unfair."

The principles are not new laws, but are intended to clarify the UK's existing consumer protection laws. If a company doesn't comply with the principles, the OFT can take a number of actions, including investigating the studio, requiring them to address issues, and in extreme cases issue court proceedings.

Games in the UK have until April 1 to comply.

The principles are largely concerned with making free-to-play games more transparent upfront about the costs associated with them. Games can't mislead players into thinking that payments are not required to progress or that payments are the only way a player can progress.

The principles also aim to prevent games from "aggressive practices," which put pressure on children to make purchases or to have others make purchases for them.

Finally, one of the principles makes clear that payments can't be made without the informed consent of the person who owns the bank account that's being billed. This is to prevent problems like the one Apple got into recently, where the FTC ordered it pay $32.5 million in refunds to consumers whose children made purchases without their consent.

The Association for United Kingdom Interactive Entertainment (Ukie), an organization that aims to promote the games industry in the UK, said that it's been working closely with the OFT, but also defended the business model in question.

"We need to make sure we balance the opportunity and growth of innovative business models in the industry with sensible measures to protecting players," Ukie CEO, Dr. Jo Twist said in response to guidelines. "Done responsibly, micro-transaction based business models give choice and value for both players and businesses."

A statement on Ukie's website explains that the principles are not clear enough, leaving developers unsure about whether they need to change their games or not.

Written By

Discussion

96 comments
WeWerePirates
WeWerePirates

There is no excuse for the $100 price tag in these games... ever. That has top stop. Free to play is inherently exploitative in that the majority of the revenue comes from a tiny minority of players and even in the best models of free to play (LOL, DOTA2, Path of Exile, Warframe) it's morally grey having a business model which exploits people with an impulse control problem. In those cases grey but not out right indefensible.


The $100 in app purchases on the other hand, that really is indefensible. Even more disgusting when it is in games aimed at children. A couple of years ago it would have been shocking but it has become the norm. It has to end.

Ultramarinus
Ultramarinus

Send Hellsing Organization after those mobile bloodsuckers!

Mausolus
Mausolus

The only games that should be able to brand themselves 'free-to-play' are the ones where you can only buy purely aesthetic bonuses. All those games that make you pay money to 'hurry' something should be branded 'pay-to-not-wait' and those games that require you to pay money for abilities and bonuses you need to be able to enjoy the game should be branded 'pay-to-win'.

electroban
electroban

Innovative business models?  yeah go fuk yourself pal.

tightwad34
tightwad34

Finally. Thank goodness someone with power did something to help out the morons who believe everything they hear or read. I have always said the "free to play" thing is utter bullshit and I really hope our favorite titles don't try this crap down the road. It still won't help the true idiots, (and there are way too many) but at least they are doing something.  

itsafeature
itsafeature

If developers stop putting in IAP to games will people pay for the games instead or should developers just create games for free you know like everyone else does in life, just the other day i was in a restaurant and the owner said have this meal for free. 


Do you know how much on average it costs to make a game? Live in the real world, people whinge about paying £2 for a game but have no problem buying a cup of coffee for double that but because some people dont want to admit that they have made a mistake by giving their children the password for the account they are easily looking for a scape goat.


How many people have gave their child a debit card and their pin number?

blackothh
blackothh

or parents can step up and be parents

Talavaj
Talavaj

Make in-game purchases illegal, simple as that. Every single free to play game or any game with microtransactions in it is exploitative, except for Valve and goddamn hats, somehow.

Karmazyn
Karmazyn

The truth is that those games should never be called free-to-play because they are not. Most of those app-games can be downloaded for free but once you pass certain stage in the game you come across a typical Paywall, the limitations are so designed that in order to continue the game you need to pay. Children and teenagers are exploited and this app industry should be heavily regulated by the goverment. Someone from the regulators need to step in and stop this trend, designed by greedy corporations.

Targzissian
Targzissian

This seems like common sense and simple right and wrong.  Misleading someone (deliberately?) into paying, or getting children to pay using their parent's money, but without the informed consent of their parents, is simply dishonest.  Some companies probably feel they can't compete without using dishonest tactics.  If true, those companies shouldn't be in business to start with.

mattcake
mattcake

They need to put a £30 cap on these games so it can't take any more money. These new "guidelines" sound about as useful as the utterly pointless "you must accept cookies to continue" notices we get forced on us on every UK site now that is supposed to make people read about being tracked / information storage. No one does, they just click yes.

Tao_and_Zen
Tao_and_Zen

Since when are dishonest, unethical, exploitative business practices "innovative"?

Jarten
Jarten

I know that this comment might be off from the article, but so far the only free to play MMO game that I have played so far that I think has done a decent job with doing sales and transactions is Lord of the Rings Online. Because you can literally earn the store money just by playing the game and don't need to pay any real money for things if you don't want to. I wish more free to play MMO games would do it like that.

GH05T-666
GH05T-666

Good this should happen everywhere not just UK

eternaldragoonx
eternaldragoonx

Why not just ban them and stone the creators to death?

Razarealm
Razarealm

The only free to play game i like is Planetside 2 and even then with it bugging me all the time about the store deals etc.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

Just make free to play games illegal altogether.  Games everywhere will instantly improve.

Mojira7
Mojira7

But it's not their job to address misleading, exploitative practices by UK government lol. :P sorry couldn't resist


SpotonRisotto
SpotonRisotto

The thing with IOS apps is most of them feature IAP. I wish you could just filter all games featuring them out of the store.

gatsbythepig
gatsbythepig

I don't live in the UK, but kudos to the legislators.

PlatinumPaladin
PlatinumPaladin

A branch of the UK government actually making itself useful? That's a herald of the apocalypse, right?

6orange9
6orange9

Are you listening Microsoft and Turn 10? Mobile apps are just the start, you are next.


Personally I think it should be required by law to publish full ownership costs of ALL dlc already for sale, at the point of sale for the game. 

twe1ve_5tones
twe1ve_5tones

While it's great to see that attention has finally made its way towards FTP games, but I have to point out, the much of the concern addressed here are purchases made by children, specifically unauthorized purchases. Isn't there already an option to password-protect purchases?

deadpeasant
deadpeasant

Free to play should really just be called pay to progress because you can't make any real progression past a certain point without paying money. The term free to play is misleading in itself anyway. Surely these companies will have to call it something different from now on because of these laws? 

nurnberg
nurnberg

Finally!  Someone is fighting back against that garbage.

RicanV
RicanV moderator moderator

Most of the "FTP" mobile games are really just demos where they make it impossible to progress past a certain point without payment. 

HonorOfGod
HonorOfGod

Good I am so sick of these scumbags putting BS out left to right.

Aaronp2k
Aaronp2k

I still hate our government, but at least they did something god for once.

Dannystaples14
Dannystaples14

This is good. My only concern is that the idiots in government who have never even touched a controller before are going to get their stupid hands all over it. And we all know that only leads to bad things. Don't we fellow mass murders, recruited by violent video games?

Paul2004
Paul2004

About time, the "Free" to play games do have alot of hidden pay walls and other stuff they keep hidden from the players. They need to be more upfront with whats free and whats not, alot of games hide these facts until you start playing or give a massive advantage to the buyers.

If your game is free then you should be able to complete it start to finish without buying anything, if you want some extra ingame cash or a flashy item then feel free but only if the player knows whats involved and they have the right security to prevent the kids from accessing it. 

Right now its like the wild west...some good but alot of con artists (Red Dead Redemption anyone ?)

normanislost
normanislost

the whole "Free to play" genre needs more guidelines around it


league of legends is the best example of an actual f2p game the only things that can't be bought with in game currency are skins and boosts neither of which are required or affect gameplay at all


bad examples are pretty much all the mobile games the lord of the rings one lept to mind instantly where the only way to be competitive is to own more than one city but ofc you have to pay to unlock them

PinchySkree
PinchySkree

They should make all payments over £1 be called macrotransactions.

Micro = pennies Macro = pounds.

robotopbuddy
robotopbuddy moderator moderator

That'd probably work better than the current branding of everything that isn't just aesthetic bonuses as f2p/p2w - pay-to-win isn't really accurate in most such cases as you can get the things by playing normally (and sometimes they're pretty minor things at that too), it just takes a lot longer. Of course, f2p is not in the slightest bit appropriate when you have to pay to keep up with other players that are paying either.


No one is really bothered by aesthetic bonuses - they have no game-play impact at all, and are purely visual changes, acting primarily an easy way of customising your graphics a bit and at the same time supporting the developer, so long as the graphics don't go over-the-top to the point that they can obscure vision or otherwise change how difficult it is to click something in-game they're pretty harmless. It's everything else that does have an impact and needs to be stamped out or at the very least disallowed to use the f2p moniker - games with blatant pay walls especially simply are not free to play.

jecomans
jecomans

@electroban  I had a laugh at that one too. And by laugh I mean I cried a little.

Kos1c
Kos1c

@itsafeature If say someone spent 100,000$ on a game and their charging 5$ a copy of that game. They only need to sell 20,000 copies to make their money back. Your posting it like developers don't make their money at all if their selling games for cheap. Mobile gaming is the future, and free to play models is just milking a loop hole at the moment.Forcing progression by the wallet is a quick way to make a few extra bucks.


You can buy a complete mobile game for 2.99-15$ and you get everything in the game. A F2P model will sell you a few crystals etc for a few bucks, then a day or so later you will need to buy more, so their charging you more for a F2P model compared to paid model. Which is an outrage, and should never of been allowed. Paid items in a game should be for optional features which don't effect the core progression of the game.

Vodoo
Vodoo

@itsafeature  Well people are gonna have to pay $2-$5 for a game if they want to to play it, period. What devs SHOULD be doing is putting out demos for their games so people can check it out first. Let them play for 20 mins for free. Or they simply have ad-based games. There are almost zero games that use iap's responsibly and try to sucker people out of their money. There is no way in hell that any mobile game should offer iap's that cost over $100, but they do. And this business model is ruining the app markets because it becomes a hassle to wade through the crap to find something decent. Most new devs want their game free so they can get it out there and make a name for themselves. 

blackothh
blackothh

@Danny_KickAzz wait wait, dungeon keeper mobile? this is worth investigating. I wont spend a dime in it since its EA but still worth taking a look at.

DanielL5583
DanielL5583

@SpotonRisotto Shame that it's doubtful to happen, since Apple themselves don't fall under UK jurisdiction, sadly. But yeah, I'm with you on this. Google, too.

Karlinel
Karlinel

@deadpeasant  Ofc you can progress, just slowly. In Dungeon Keeper, for example, it simulates how long it'd take you to dig an actual hole into bedrock. It's so meta, Im sure all of you thought it was pay-to-win adding timers to force you into purchases!

Don't worry, I know where the exit is...

zeek_fox
zeek_fox

@Dannystaples14 In all fairness, most people who have controllers in their hands have never touched a book on constitutional rights.  If a kitten died everytime someone confuses "the right to free speech" with "you can't mod me because I can say whatever I want online!", felines would be extict.


But I do agree that this is good.  If nothing else, I want gaming to return to being gaming, rather than a contest of who's got the loosest pockets.  I can respect those guys who win fighting game championships, because that's pure skill and hard work.  But the strongest character on any given MMO?  They're typically just the player who can charge the most to their credit card.

hystavito
hystavito

@normanislost  Doesn't Path of Exile boast that the things you can buy with real money are only cosmetic?


I only played in the beta and never looked into it further, but I remember they always insisted the stuff you could purchase would not make the game easier or better in terms of actual gameplay.

xsonicchaos
xsonicchaos

@PinchySkree  

Or heavytransactions. Right? because pounds... are also measurement units for weight. I need friends.