Web game extras get Office of Fair Trading scrutiny


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

Related Stories

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.


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    154.Hugo Grotius
    If you want the state to control every aspect of your life because you can't manage it yourself then so be it, but don't expect everyone to be as helpless as you"

    I do not know what is wrong with some people.

    Has the Banks behavior not taught you anything? What makes you think other businesses are as pure as the driven snow?

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    @151 Fargrist
    How are you going to regulate the companies that are based in the US? It's not going to be as easy as seem to think. The world is continually adapting due to the technology that is being forced on us and unfortunately if you don't adapt with it then you will be left open to ur own niavity. I bet it was somebody elses fault when you replied to that phishing email you got.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    Why the waste of time the OFT will conclude that all is wonderful (as they did with petrol, they continue to do with supermarkets and do every time that someone is ripping off the consumer... I guess it has something to do with where the biggest incomes arrive from).

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    To many parents having children proves their virility/fertility and that they are a "matched pair", the actual responsibility of raising the child is seen to fall to "society". Parents whining about these games will be the same ones who call for censorship of tv/newspapers so they don't have to have "difficult" conversations with their kids and explain the real world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    151 Fargrist

    'Your attitude will be what gets the industry regulated, ... the industry know it and are making money while the making is good and unregulated'

    I was unaware of these traps until a friend told me his kid had run up £140 quid bill. You're right - the scammers are taking advantage of a limited window of thievertunity. Apple will shut them all down to preserve their reputation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    @36. Little_Old_Me

    Is there any industry which, if left under regulated, does not see attempts by business to rip their concumers off.......??????


    How is the concumer [sic] being ripped off exactly?

    If you want the state to control every aspect of your life because you can't manage it yourself then so be it, but don't expect everyone to be as helpless as you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.


    More like putting them down in a "free" playing area you own, sending a leaflet to their house with bright colours aimed squarely at children advertising the play area with "features mantraps" in the microscopic small print, and then hiding the warning signs on your land behind some bushes.

    Then you can tell the parents - well what did you expect, nothing is free!

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    #145 A better analogy (since the parents would be the ones to download the game, their own choice) would be putting a trap down in a piece of land you own and putting a sign up saying there are traps there. You aren't blameless, but if a parent lets their child play in a strange field with the notice "Caution, Mantraps" then they have to take responsibility too

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    143.Bumble You argued that this state of affairs was good because it was a viable business model. Leaping over any ethical considerations, as if money is all that matters. Your attitude will be what gets the industry regulated, and to some extent the industry know it and are making money while the making is good and unregulated with ripe young prey.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    If your child is too young to understand (or not trustworthy enough not to use) micro-transactions in games. Then why are parents letting them play the games unsupervised? Since when has it been the game makers job to look after someone else's children?

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Surely if you've reached the age where you have children, you must realise that there's no such thing as a free lunch. If an app is "free" - then ask how they make their money. It could be advertising during the game, it could install some annoying advertising program onto your phone, or it could require these microtransactions.
    If you're not sure, look it up, it's your responsibility!

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    I do have a child and I managed not to give birth to my brain with him!
    Mistakes that help shape them I am not opposed to, however pushing the boundaries of my bank account I am. Teaching them the responsibility of money when they are old enough to conceive the matter will come. Until then I take pride in the fact that I am a responsible parent as opposed to all you other idiots!

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    If you have the inability to understand that any 'free' app will feature microtansactions or adverts to make it's revenue and your unsupervised child spends your money, then quite frankly you are an idiot.

    Indie Developers do not actively seek to scam customers, they just want to make a profit for the thousands of hours they have poured into developing it (and release free updates/bug fixes).

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Parents are once again insisting the entire world has to stop so they can slack off on their job

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.


    Info is out there on the dangers of mantraps. If I put one in someone's garden and their kid falls into it, I can't absolve myself of blame by telling the parents it was their fault for not having eyes and ears on their kid 24/7.

    In my experience, the more tech-savvy someone is, the lower their opinion is of anyone who is not tech-savvy (which is an awful lot of people).

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    I am more worried that the idiot parents thought it suitable for a five year old to play a game which involved having to use weapons to kill zombies, without supervision. Haven't they heard of books and reading to your children, or are they just too lazy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    You know what they say about ppl who assume. Comparing the video game industry to the mafia is childish. Parents have to take responsiblities for what their own children. Do u give in to them every time they want to have a burger when u pass the golden arches? Do u let them have ur PIN niumber? I very much doubt it. Then why give a password that is linked to ur bank account to them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    125.BabyBear When you have children you will discover that one cannot defend them from all the world's woes, and indeed that it is not advisable to do so. They need to confront fears, to push boundaries, to make mistakes, to grow.

    That does not mean I will tolerate a bunch of ratbags setting online traps for children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Parents may not be shirking their responsibility just being niave. The IT programmers seem to be unable to understand that there are people who do not have IT built in to their psyche. I found setting controls very difficult and I solved the problem by switching off all games and apps on a kindle used by my grandchildren. No more downloaded games bought or free.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    #127 A lot of the comments blaming the parents are from people who aren't too lazy to take a very short time to look at the potential pitfalls of a technology and do the absolute minimum to secure their systems against those problems.

    All the information is out there, ignorance is no longer an excuse with technology like this


Page 6 of 13


More Technology stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.