The lights are on
Earlier this month, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority issued a ruling that may have far-reaching implications for free-to-play games. The organization deemed that EA’s use of the word “free” with regard to Dungeon Keeper Mobile (a title that uses in-app microtransactions) is deceptive.
In February, we reported that the European Commission was investigating the impact and regulation of free-to-play games. Now, Google has decided that it will stop allowing the word “free” to be used in association with titles that offer in-app purchases.
This comes as one of many improvements set to go into effect by the end of September. Other elements of the plan include more stringent guidelines around inducement of purchases in youth-focused games and monitoring procedures to insure compliance with EU law.
"This is the very first enforcement action of its kind in which the European Commission and national authorities joined forces," says EU Commissioner for consumer policy Neven Mimica. "I am happy to see that it is delivering tangible results. This is significant for consumers. In particular, children must be better protected when playing online. The action also provides invaluable experience for the ongoing reflection on how to most effectively organise the enforcement of consumer rights in the Union. It has demonstrated that cooperation pays off and helps to improve the protection of consumers in all member states."
Apple hasn’t responded as the EU would have liked, though in a comment to Engadget, points toward its parental controls as a vital mechanism. Additionally, the company suggests that the upcoming iOS 8 will increase protections. “We are always working to strengthen the protections we have in place, and we're adding great new features with iOS 8, such as Ask to Buy, giving parents even more control over what their kids can buy on the App Store,” the company says. The European Commission says that consumer protection authorities will continue to pursue Apple for concrete timing and specific measures that align with the EC's policies.
In the United States, the FTC has become more aggressive with platform holders about disclosure and protections. in January, Apple signed a Federal Trade Commission consent decree (which settles a matter without the admission of guilt) following a lawsuit settlement in 2013 regarding in-app purchases. The FTC is currently pursuing Amazon in court to compel the company to refund customers over accidental in-app purchases.
[Source: European Commission, Engadget]
Our TakeWhile those who are more informed on gaming have come to understand that free-to-play is usually anything but, for more casual gamers the term can be deceptive. And if the word “free” doesn’t really mean “free,” then it shouldn’t be used.
Email the author Mike Futter, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.