The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has published its finalised set of eight principles for online and app-based games. This followed a market investigation in 2013 which highlighted concerns that consumers of online and app-based games were subject to potentially misleading or unfair commercial practices.
The principles are annexed to the Children's Online Games report and consultation, and clarify the online and app-based games industry’s obligations under consumer protection law. They are broadly as follows:
- Information about the costs associated with a game should be provided clearly, accurately and prominently up-front before the consumer begins to play, download or sign up to it or agrees to make a purchase.
- All material information about the game should be clear, accurate, prominent and provided up-front, before the consumer begins to play, download or sign up to it or agrees to make a purchase. ‘Material information’ includes any information necessary for the average consumer to make an informed decision to play, download or sign up to the game or to make a purchase.
- Information about the business should be clear, accurate, prominent and provided up-front, before the consumer begins to play, download or sign up to the game or agrees to make a purchase. It should be clear to the consumer who he/she ought to contact in case of queries or complaints. The business should be capable of being contacted rapidly and communicated with in a direct and effective manner.
- The commercial intent of any in-game promotion of paid-for content, or promotion of any other product or service, should be clear and distinguishable from gameplay.
- 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.
- Games should not include practices that are aggressive, or which otherwise have the potential to exploit a child’s inherent inexperience, vulnerability or credulity. The younger a child is, the greater the likely impact those practices will have, and the language, design, visual interface and structure of the game should take account of that.
- A game should not include direct exhortations to children to make a purchase or persuade others to make purchases for them.
- Payments should not be taken from the payment account holder unless authorised. A payment made in a game is not authorised unless informed consent for that payment has been given by the payment account holder. The scope of the agreement and the amount to be debited should be made clear to the consumer so he/she can give informed consent. Consent should not be assumed, for example through the use of opt-out provisions, and the consumer should positively indicate his/her informed consent.
The deadline for compliance is 1 April 2014, which is the date that the Competition and Markets Authority will adopt its consumer enforcement role.
The principles can be seen in full here.