Web game extras get Office of Fair Trading scrutiny


Cavendish Elithorn, OFT: "It's important parents understand... how much they're going to cost"

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Web and phone games aimed at children that charge for extras are being investigated by the Office of Fair Trading.

The OFT wants to find out if the games put undue pressure on children to pay for additional content.

Many games ask players to pay to get coins, gems or other virtual items to speed their progress through levels.

The OFT wants to hear from parents who have seen firms aggressively pushing in-game content to children.

High cost

The investigation comes alongside media reports about children spending large sums on virtual items for smartphone and web games.

In March, five-year-old schoolboy Danny Kitchen, from Bristol, managed to rack up charges of more than £1,700 while playing the Zombies versus Ninjas game on his parents' iPad. The money has since been refunded by Apple.

The BBC's Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones explains some of the things you can do to prevent charges from web and phone games

In January this year, regulator PhonePayPlus revealed it had seen a 300% increase in complaints from consumers about the bills generated when they buy add-ons for games and other apps.

In its investigation, the OFT wants to find out if the games are "misleading, commercially aggressive or otherwise unfair" when they give people the chance to buy extras. It also wants to find out if children are being specifically targeted by such applications.

"We are concerned that children and their parents could be subject to unfair pressure to purchase when they are playing games they thought were free, but which can actually run up substantial costs," said Cavendish Elithorn, the OFT's senior director for goods and consumer.

Makers of games that strongly encourage children to buy or pressure them to ask parents to buy on their behalf could be breaking laws on fair trading, said the OFT.

Mr Elithorn said the OFT did not want to ban in-game purchases, but wanted to be sure that games-makers are complying with relevant laws. Consumer groups or parents with evidence of games aggressively marketing in-game extras should contact the OFT, it said.

Figures gathered by the OFT reveal that the vast majority of the most popular smartphone games were free to install but raised cash for their creators via in-app purchases. Such extras were priced very differently, it said, with some costing only a few pence but the most high-priced were £70.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    136 Aphoristic

    'Lets have a HYS about the ding dong the witch is dead controversy!!

    North Korea like censorship going on in an attempt to stop any meaningful display of just how loathed MT was by many people'

    Lets not. I'm sick of watching 20-somethings on TV raging and spitting about how Fatcher destroyed their 'community' when they should be taking their parents and grandparents to task.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    Sorry but trains companies are robbing us blind for years. Commuters trying to get to their work don't have a choice to pay their exploitive prices. The train to my work cost double what it would do in a car and that is PUBLIC transport.

    This is having a devastating impact on the economy as people can't afford to work. Why can't they sort something important out?

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.


    I fear your 16 year old is going to go off the rails when she gets a bit of idependence from mum, I saw it only too often when I started Uni; many a stomach were pumped in freshers week.

  • Comment number 136.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    Con artists are sociopaths who believe that anyone who gets scammed is an idiot and therefore deserved to get scammed.

    Having a surfeit of empathy for my fellow human beings, I would never in good conscience put my talents to business model like this, however effective it may be at making money.

    So whether we want the OFT to act really depends on what kind of world we want to live in,

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    @ Little_Old_Me A car ploughing into you is an uncertain event over which you have no control.

    Changing the settings on your child's smartphone or tablet is something which you have control over and can change! Parent's not being proactive and shirking their responsibilities of course will be blamed!

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    121.Bumble Organised crime is also a viable business model; high margins, good volume, some last for decades. Here's what's wrong with blame the parent; your business suffers. I assume you are in the app game. One way it suffers is that lowest common denominator will prevail, that loss of quality will be detected by customers. That LCD effect also leads to things like this newspaper article.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    #119 I'd have to disagree. The parents are the ones who provided their details and then let the child use the system. The child wasn't old enough to take responsibility for themselves, so the parents have to take responsibility for that childs actions, and that includes what you called theft there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    This does need government intervention.

    Get a free App & at the end of every game get asked if you want to buy extra credit, lives or whatever. It works on the same principle as gambling.
    & addiction. Would we let 5 year olds enter a betting shop ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    122 AlErgic

    'Talking of fairness; why should people that don't pay for TV licenses and only use PC's to watch BBC programs be subsidized by us folks that do?'

    Why should folk who don't watch the BBC have to subsidize those that do?

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    No such thing as free, most people can't afford to spend thousands of hours developing apps then giving them away for free.
    It's either advertising or basic game and buy add ons.

    Maybe parents should spend time learning how to nail down their devices so their kids can't spend money from them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Free to play games are no different from sweet shops.If they're clearly priced then what difference is there between stopping a child from getting more sweets and getting more app features?Kids have to understand that they can't have everything-Or is it just my family that is happy to play free-to-play games for nothing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Quelle surprise......masses of extremely lazy comments blaming the parents.....from people who either are not parents, or did their parenting in pre internet days......

    ....presumably you blame the parents too when a car mounts the pavement and ploughs into the family outing, after all what were they doing next a road....!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    113. michellegrand
    'This is the free market. Companies don't make you spend the money ...'

    They charge a low price for a kid's game, say 69p., but don't explain clearly that the credit card used to buy the game is left open for that game so any additional game purchases don't need authorisation. It's like setting up a direct debit on the card ... and it targets children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.


    Your spawn would not be scammed if you took preventive measures and knew the product your dealing with!! Your continued disregard to the fact that your being ignorant and blaming companies (who give clear guidelines!) for the fact that you don't read instruction manuals makes you and your spawn a sad case of the blind leading the blind

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    115.BabyBear What is simple is the greed of the game designs. As in your two examples, where you have to opt out of skinning your bank account alive.

    I don't understand the arrogance of assuming parents and children are foolish, is that how the game designers distance themselves from the consequences of their designs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    It's time there was a curb on this deliberate misleading sales technique. Free should only be used when there are no hidden charges nor further attempts to try selling the 'buyer' stuff by any means.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Talking of fairness; why should people that don't pay for TV licenses and only use PC's to watch BBC programs be subsidized by us folks that do?

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    These are not scams though, they are viable business models. Nobody is forcing you to play them, or even allow ur child to have unsupervised access to a tablet that is connected to the internet, or is it the internets fault when they find porn. It's weak minded not taking resposibility and blaming others for ur own bad parenting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Many apps sole incomes are from paid-for extras.To describe this as dishonest is ludicrous if they make it clear that certain features will cost money.The current system of using passwords on,say,Android prevents kids from spending their parents money.It's a case of educating parents to not give away their credit card, and ensuring that products provide clear info about costs.


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