Google Agrees to Stop Calling Games With In-App Purchases "Free," at Least in Europe

Google takes a major step in changing how it handles free-to-play games.

The pressure to stop referring to games with in-app purchases as "free" continues to grow. As part of an announcement from the European Commission today, it was revealed that Google will cease using "free" to describe such games. This news comes not long after a UK ad regulator declared Electronic Arts had to stop running certain advertisements for the microtransaction-heavy Dungeon Keeper mobile game that referred to it as free.

Last December, the EC put forth a request to companies like Google and Apple to reevaluate their handling of free-to-play games. Among other things, it specifically asked that consumers not be misled about the "true costs involved" with games marketed as free, and that children not be urged to make in-game purchases. The two companies then met with the commission to discuss these requests in February.

In response, the EC announced today that Google will institute a number of changes by the end of this September. The most significant of these is no longer using "free" in relation to games with in-app purchases. It will also tweak the default settings so that payment has to be authorized before every in-app purchase, though you'll be free to change this. Additionally, it will implement developer guidelines to disallow "direct exhortation to children," meaning they can no longer strongly appeal to children to make in-app purchases.

"In-app purchases are a legitimate business model, but it's essential for app-makers to understand and respect EU law while they develop these new business models." -- European Commission's Neelie Kroes

It's unclear whether Google will only make these changes in Europe, or if it will seek to get ahead of any future issues by making them worldwide. We've contacted Google to find out more about its plans.

Today's announcement says Apple has "regrettably" made "no concrete and immediate solutions" to the aforementioned points raised by the commission. It notes Apple has said it will make changes, but offered no time table or specifics for doing so. In a statement sent to Engadget, Apple defended its attempts to protect parents and children on the App Store and indicated iOS 8, the next version of its mobile operating system, will further expand these efforts. We've contacted the company for additional details.

The commission says enforcement--which includes "possible legal action"--is up to national authorities. There is not yet any indication about how they will proceed, or what action they will take if they don't feel Apple and other companies do enough to protect consumers.

"The Commission is very supportive of innovation in the app sector," said EC vice president Neelie Kroes. "In-app purchases are a legitimate business model, but it's essential for app-makers to understand and respect EU law while they develop these new business models."

Many consider the term "free-to-play" a misnomer; while typically true in the strictest sense, free-to-play games are often designed in such a way that it isn't reasonable to expect to play them for long without paying. Such was the judgment of the UK's Advertising Standards Authority when it made its Dungeon Keeper decision earlier this month.

The issue of children spending money without their parents' consent has been a hot topic for some time. One of the most famous instances of it happening came when one consumer's daughter spent $2,600 in mobile game Tap Pet Hotel.

Europe has been especially aggressive in trying to deal with the issue of free-to-play games and in-app purchases. For instance, the U.K.'s Office of Fair Trading laid out a set of guidelines free-to-play games would have to follow earlier this year. The U.S. meanwhile, has not been entirely idle; the Federal Trade Commission is in the midst of a lawsuit with Amazon over unauthorized charges, and back in January, it was announced that Apple would have to pay upwards of $32.5 million in refunds for unauthorized charges.

Are you happy to see that Google will stop referring to games with in-app purchases as "free"? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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MrBlondeX

Chris Pereira

Twitter/Xbox Live/PSN/Nintendo Network: TheSmokingManX
90 comments
izvarzone
izvarzone

Why do people ever buy them? Cowclickers genre is insult to gaming industry.

PinchySkree
PinchySkree

Also can we have all Free to Play games have a mandatory listing of their sub genre:

Pay to play.
Pay to not grind.
Pay to not wait.
Pay to win.

RSM-HQ
RSM-HQ

I'm commenting on an off subject.


Phone game apps killed Dungeon Keeper. 


That is all.

uninspiredcup
uninspiredcup

Mobile and tablet games need not be bad. It's just overwhelming greed that is making them so.

Pewbert
Pewbert

Can we rename "Free to Play" to "Pay to Play" also? ;)

Hurvl
Hurvl

The issue of kids paying for stuff without parent's consent is easily fixable and that's the responsibility of the parents, but I like that the marketing is getting regulated, because many people don't know the true meaning of free-to-play games. Just calling them free, not even free-to-play is even more deceptive, but I don't know what else to call them. Free-to-download, free-to-start, free-to-try, freemium? Those all contain the word "free", which companies like but the EC and such don't like. People need to learn what free-to-play truly means and companies need to stop taking advantage of people's ignorance - two things that's easier said than done.

DaSlyOne
DaSlyOne

@Hurvl Ignorance means "a lack of knowledge". With the internet, ignorance should be nonexistent.  Companies are taking advantage of people's laziness. People are too lazy to learn what "Free-to-play" really means.  Time for people to accept responsibility in the matter.  If they don't like the fact that a game requires micro transactions for meaningful play, then delete the game and move on. Don't blame the company for providing the consumer with something they are obviously willing to pay for.  Hell, people still pay a premium for bottled tap water. (i.e. Dasani)  And games aren't a necessity like water is. People are ignorant because they choose to be ignorant. 

R4gn4r0k
R4gn4r0k

Can we start calling them "crap" ?

notsonegi
notsonegi

Good Guy Google, doing something to protect the consumer for once


If you check the Play Store now you'll notice that the 'Top Free' tab has been renamed 'Top Games'. So it's a start, but i hope they do more to regulate the swell of f2p content at the top of the charts

punksterdaddy
punksterdaddy

@notsonegi

No they are not!

They are not the ones that did this out of a moral obligation, they did this because UK advertisement watchdogs and the European commission were the ones that has finally decided to do something about this rubbish, then and only then did Google announce that they will change all those so called "Free to Play," games that clearly are not.

So they deserve NO PRAISE what so ever, they only did it before they were forced to do it.

sensi2fr
sensi2fr

@punksterdaddy @notsonegi Well the EC is praising Google -and "shaming" Apple- for coming with quick and speedy solutions to fix the issue at hand and for giving the EC a timetable for their implementation.

xcollector
xcollector

If they don't extend this beyond Europe it will only confirm that Corps are the law in the USA.

hotwog21
hotwog21

to be honost this is pathetic,  all they are doing is stopping the calling of these game free, when it doesnt fix the source of the problem, BANNING THEM ALL TOGETHER. Another dangling carrot of hope,  so sick of gaming these days, and next gen is such a scam too, they have started the games so short of features that everyone is going to buy the next installments because they are bound to get better right?


pathetic


hotwog21
hotwog21

should be banned, i picked europe to be the first to ban this sort of games, atleast its a start. These games have ruined gaming for a very long time. Dark days of gaming :( and its in everything, cod, fifa, battlefield, to candy crush, clash of clans and the rest :(

zchezx
zchezx

@hotwog21 F2P is not a an inherently bad model. The games you all listed are all horrific anyway. If you buy something from someone that is willing to rip you off, expect to be ripped off.

bj91x
bj91x

More so than not being labeled as "free," I'm more interested in a proper list of all the in-app purchases and their prices. Though, I guess this is more important for paid apps. It sucks to buy an app, only to find out afterwards that the stuff you bought the app for, are locked behind dozens of dollars in additional payments.

hystavito
hystavito

@bj91x Most tablets and smartphones don't have the memory to display lists that long.  :)

nurnberg
nurnberg

Why did it take so long?  I am so sick of that "free-2-play" scam.  This needs to be strictly regulated.

drysprocket
drysprocket

Good job Google. I'm not fanboy of yours...but you continue to be the least evil of the giants.

guydude3412
guydude3412

What will they call it then? Because it is not truly paid either

streamline
streamline

I can't think of anything short to call it except pay as you go like in mobile phone plans. Doesn't work as well for non game apps though that offer in app purchases and upgrades.

sensi2fr
sensi2fr

@guydude3412 In the good old time they were called shareware, going from time trials to limited feature software... 

guydude3412
guydude3412

I couldn't think of anything either.

sensi2fr
sensi2fr

@guydude3412 Well I guess it could be anything without the term free in it ;)

sensi2fr
sensi2fr

@guydude3412 Well if I understand correctly the EC position the issue is precisely about the term "free", so freemium wouldn't work.

guydude3412
guydude3412

Most people would know that though. I didn't. They need something short and catchy

guydude3412
guydude3412

It is kind of stupid, because it can be free. It is just bad parenting that is letting small children buy this stuff. It is teaching kids they can buy their way through life. Which as we all know, you can't

beuneus12
beuneus12

maybe if people stopped funding these 'free' to play games, government wouldn't have to step in to protect retards from themselves

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@beuneus12 Most people pay $0 in these games.  However, a small percentage of mor0ns pay large amounts of money.  It's that small percentage of fools that ruin it for the rest of us.

allever
allever

Hopefully these changes come to the States. Free to play is not really free.  It's a marketing exploit.

PinchySkree
PinchySkree

@allever If people didn't give them money it would stop. The price of facebook currency (10c/coin) for games was set by how much the whaling tactics succeded on americans.

cbxero
cbxero

Won't matter. Too many sheep. I stopped downloading games on my phone a LONG time ago when this kind of garbage became the norm. Check the top 25 "free" games and it's the same game, with different skins. Demo to get you started, then buy jewels/coins/hearts/whatever to keep playing now, or make one move every 6 hours.


Mobile gaming is not the future, it's awful. One idea comes along and catches on, and 8000 carbon copies are pushed out in a pathetic attempt to cash in.


I have more respect for a company that charges $60 for a game and backs it up with value, than a "free download" that milks you for nickels if you actually want to play for longer than 30 seconds.

asmoddeuss
asmoddeuss

Finally, I remember I got an RPG game for my phone, and when I wanted to use the health potion to heal, it told me I need to buy one for 25 cents or something like that. What a rip off of a game that was, I think itwas called dungoen hunter 4 or 5 I can't remember now.

therealzorvan
therealzorvan

Good. Now the U.S. and other countries need to follow suit. "Free to Play" games need to be labeled correctly as "Limited Feature Trials".

Stebsis
Stebsis

@therealzorvan That's not really accurate label because not every F2P is limited trial because some give the whole experience for free even if you have to play it a bit(a lot) more. I'd say free to play is more accurate because these games are free to play, but they're not completely free either

therealzorvan
therealzorvan

@Stebsis @therealzorvan If you cannot enjoy everything the game has to offer without either A:) paying an "optional" sub or B:) buying expansions/DLC/clothing/items/armor/etc. from the cash shop, then the game is not "free to Play", it is "Free to Try".