European Union cracking down on free-to-play

European Union cracking down on free-to-play
Craig Chapple

By Craig Chapple

February 28th 2014 at 10:10AM

Game industry told to commit to providing solutions 'within a clear timeframe so as to ensure proper consumer protection for apps customers'

The European Commission is seeking talks with app developers and platform holders over the use of in-app purchases in games marked as free-to-play.

The announcement was sparked after complaints "from all over Europe", resulting in the EC meeting with national enforcement authorities and large tech companies yesterday and today to discuss how to move forward with a more transparent industry.

Game companies will now be expected to commit to providing solutions "within a clear timeframe so as to ensure proper consumer protection for apps customers".

The EC action is being led by the the Danish Consumer Ombudsman. The UK - following its own Office of Fair Trading report and publishing of new principles - France, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and Lithuania, all members of the Consumer Protection Cooperation network, will also participate in the meetings.

Discussions will look at whether the term "free" is misleading in games including IAPs, and if developers and publishers should provide a contact email for any queries or complaints.

The four most important issues to be raised during the meeting will be:

  • Games advertised as “free” should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved;
  • Games should not contain direct exhortations to children to buy items in a game or to persuade an adult to buy items for them;
  • Consumers should be adequately informed about the payment arrangements and purchases should not be debited through default settings without consumers’ explicit consent;
  • Traders should provide an email address so that consumers can contact them in case of queries or complaints.

Following the outcome of these meetings, the EC and member state authorities will look to reach a common understanding with the game industry to address consumer concerns, and the EU could follow up with enforcement action if new principles or rules are not met.

"Europe’s app industry has enormous potential, both to generate jobs and growth, and to improve our daily lives through innovative technology," said EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding.

"For the sector to deliver on its potential consumers must have confidence in new products. Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model and also goes against the spirit of EU rules on consumer protection. The European Commission will expect very concrete answers from the app industry to the concerns raised by citizens and national consumer organisations."

Commissioner Neven Mimica added: “Consumers and in particular children need better protection against unexpected costs from in-app purchases. National enforcement authorities and the European Commission are discussing with industry how to address this issue which not only causes financial harm to consumers but can also put at stake the credibility of this very promising market. Coming up with concrete solutions as soon as possible will be a win-win for all.”

Image credit: Amio Cajander