Earlier this year, a five-year-old boy racked up a bill of £1,700 playing a “free” game on an iPad. This was amid news that 80 of the 100 top-grossing Android apps in the UK were free to install but raised revenue through in-app purchases typically ranging from a few pence to £70 or more. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has now concluded that certain internet and app-based games do breach the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 by way of “aggressive” tactics used to get young people to pay for optional extras.

Accordingly, the OFT has suggested 8 principles which the industry should follow as guidance to prevent possible breaches of consumer protection laws. These include providing upfront, clear, accurate and prominent information about the costs associated with a game before the consumer begins to play, download or sign up to it, and ensuring that payments are not taken from the payment account holder unless authorised, i.e. informed consent for that payment has been given by the payment account holder. Additionally, a game should not mislead consumers by giving the false impression that payments are required or are an integral part of the way the game is played if that is not the case.

A full copy of the OFT’s report, which includes examples of wording and methods which would likely comply with the principles, can be found here.

The OFT is inviting comments on the principles by 21 November 2013, with the principles then to be finalised and published. Following a grace period, the principles are currently due to become effective from April 2014 from which date non-compliance may result in enforcement action.