In-app purchases unlawful? Free to play games under investigation by OFT

The Office of Fair Trading is conducting an enquiry into the lawfulness of free to play games. The main issues relate to the way in-app purchases and similar schemes are marketed towards children.

"As part of the investigation, the OFT has written to companies offering free web or app-based games, seeking information on in-game marketing to children," an OFT spokesman said.

The investigation hopes to determine whether free-to-play titles are "misleading, commercially aggressive or otherwise unfair".

Real Racing 3 caused plenty of controversy at launch because of its fairly aggressive in-app purchasing scheme. We have to say though, months' worth's of gameplay have gone by and we still haven't paid a penny. 

Read: Real Racing 3 review

The titles that the OFT has the most issue with are those which might cause overly "strong encouragement" to children to buy things within the app. The same applies to apps which might persuade parents to do the same.

Just recently, a five-year-old child ran up a £1,700 bill playing an app on his iPad. Apple did refund the payments made from his parent's credit card, but it certainly says something about the in-app purchasing model if you can run up that sort of bill.

According to the Office of Fair Trading, if it does find that free to play titles are in breach of its trading standards, those elements will be forced to be removed from games. 

If the investigation finds general fault with the free-to-play business model, it could change the app gaming world forever.



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