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.

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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.

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