Following publication of draft principles in October 2013 (see OFT consults on new principles for in-app purchases), the Office of Fair Trading (“OFT”) has now published its final principles (“Principles”) for online and in-app games. Games producers have until 1 April 2014 to ensure that their games do not breach consumer protection law.

Background

The Principles come following an investigation in April 2013 into the ways in which online and app-based games encourage children to make purchases. The OFT investigated whether there was general market compliance with consumer protection law, in particular the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 and the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002.

Following the OFT’s investigation, a public consultation was held on a set of proposed industry principles. These principles have now been revised to reflect the relevant legal provisions and to enable them to have a greater degree of international relevance and applicability. The OFT has added an annexe to the Principals which sets out the relevant provisions, in EU and domestic law, that underpin each principle.

The Principles

In summary, the Principles include the following requirements:

  • Information about:
    • the costs associated with a game;
    • other material information about the game; and
    • information about the business (including contact details),

must be provided clearly, accurately, prominently and up-front, before the consumer begins to play, download or sign up to the game or agrees to make a purchase.

  • The commercial intent of any in-game promotion of paid-for content should be clear and distinguishable from gameplay.
  • Games should not:
    • mislead consumers by giving the false impression that payments are required if that is not the case;
    • use practices which are aggressive or exploit children's inexperience, vulnerability or credulity; or
    • directly exhort children to make purchases or persuade others to make purchases for them.
    • Payments should not be taken from the account holder unless authorised and details of what constitutes valid authorisation is given.

The OFT has also published guidance for parents to assist in ensuring that children are not pressured into making in-game purchases and to reduce the risk of their making unauthorised payments.

Failure to comply

The Principles include worked examples of how each principle should be applied and providers of apps that do not reach the standards set by 1 April 2014 could face enforcement action requiring them to take remedial action to bring themselves into compliance.

The Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) (when it acquires its powers in April 2014) will continue to monitor the market to check whether the industry is complying with its legal obligations. Traders in the industry are therefore advised to satisfy themselves that they are in compliance with the Principles in advance of this next stage of the project.