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 199.

    Parents need to understand that the password is 'remembered' after they've input it so that they can continue making purchases without having to enter the password each time. There also needs to be a 'forget password' option so that this can be selected if the parent wants to share the device with children / others to prevent this happening. It's really not that difficult.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    There is a reason these games that charge for extras are cheap or free. And that clearly is that they charge for extras. Not rocket science.

    Just like those collector magazines that build up over many weeks, and cost far more than just buying a quality book about the subject in the first place.

    Surely th OFT have got something more worthwhile to do with their resources and time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Cry me a river if your kid racks up a massive bill because you haven't supervised their use of games which have been linked to your payment details! But then, parents blindly go out and buy the latest Call of Duty for their 12 year olds, so what do they know about games?

    Children need to be taught the value of money. But I guess that requires parents to know that themselves first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    You can't legislate against stupidity. This kind of thing just goes to prove it

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    For me, as a gamer, parenting is besides the point. As far as I'm concerned, these games are using manipulative techniques and addictive psychological lures to get people to pay more than they normally would, even adults. This is basically gambling, except without a way to get your money back. The fact that it's directed at children I think is wrong. But a warning I think would be enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    the difference between my day and these days

    my day - kid does something wrong, kid gets into trouble
    today - kid does something wrong, parents look round the whole world for someone else to blame

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    One other thing I have to (reluctantly) say is that abuses of this business model don't invalidate it. If you assume that someone has their device secure so that every payment is validated by the cardholder then I can't really see any moral or legal argument against it. I don't like that model for gaming, but I think in the proper form it has to live or die on its merits (hopefully the latter)

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    This con is a feature of iTunes. Make kid close down iPad after playing for 30 mins so you will have to give the passcode again before he can buy any more features for his "free" game. Why leave him playing all day at age 5 - he should be out climbing trees and getting muddy. iTunes SHOULD provide default of blocked purchasing but then how would it make even more money? Use Android instead!

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    When I was 15, as much as apple hated me not having a credit card linked up, I managed to get my iTunes account set up with only using vouchers. That way the only way they could get more money off me was for me to go out and buy another voucher. The parents who use these games as baby sitters should have a password set up and only they should know it. Also ask the kids what they are buying first

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    As I said before.
    My mother (61) has her password set up on her iPad.
    If I'm at her house and using it and wanting to do anything that costs money. I have to hand the device to her so she can input her password.

    I'm 33. Parents with todlers have NO EXCUSE.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    it is just common sense to keep passwords secret, or turn on aeroplane mode, however i get annoyed with "free games" that invite you to play for free, but then limit your ability to complete or reach certain points without buying add ons. it is not always clear. if you look on itunes, the highest grossing games are "free" - something isnt right there!

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    #182 There's a difference between defending the people who make those games and pointing out where the parents etc could have protected themselves. The developers of the dodgy games rely on people being ignorant, and until people start realising that there are things they can do to protect themselves and that it is their responsibility to do them they're going to remain an ignorant easy target

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    Another point which I believe is in some cases being exploited by gaming companies is that of the complexity of technology itself

    I got caught out with this with a new mobile phone when I thought I was accessing the web via my home broadband but it was not until I went through several menus that I found I was using my monthly web allowances on my phones contract. It was so easy to overlook

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    Its assumed that all apps are sold by gaming companies. However, many are developed by individuals or a small group of developers. Most will be based offshore and unlikely to be captured by any UK legislation.

    As for the technology it high time tablet PCs & phones allowed multiple user accounts just like our humble PCs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    Why are parents giving their children access to their credit card details?
    There are plenty of security options to block both in-game purchases and 'app store' purchases. There is a reason why these devices require owners to have proof of age and, although it is unfortunate these charges in in the hundreds or thousands of pounds, the parents are at fault for not understanding these implications.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    There is nothing wrong with a game funded by microtransactions. If done well they are better for the user and 'seller' than games funded by adds can be (and alot better in my opinion than pushing adds/ downloads in kid (or adults) faces as a way of funding development)

    Parents should be willing and able to police there kids usage of apps... trust me there is a lot worse out there than these games

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    I remember when I was a kid.
    The old ring dial phone in our house had a physical lock and key so I couldn't use the phone and run up a massive bill.

    What happened to this kind of responsibilty?

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    @180 I have! Fortunately it wasn't on my device as I don't play these wretched things. But defending the empathy-free developers of these things, and developers of gambling aimed at children, is not something I can do with a clear conscience.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    @ SurfingSharka You can change this in your settings so that your machine requests a password every time you make a movement in the game which needs a payment. The games are controlled by the machines settings! They are not able to override the settings of your device! Please educate yourselves on your device before blaming others or commenting and making yourselves look like fools!

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Is that a fact or just a myht, created to hide the fact that people have been irresponsible.

    I have yet to see a game, on Playstation, iPad, Facebook that has not requested a password everytime they are wanting to take money from your account

    I'm fairly positive that the ones being duped are either disabling the password authorisation or giving their kids the password.


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