'Pay to play' games warning

The online games app industry has been warned by the Office of Fair Trading of "potentially unfair and aggressive commercial practices" that could target "susceptible" children to pay to continue playing.

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Games makers take responsibilities 'very seriously'

Games trade body Ukie said all its members "take their responsibility to their players, particularly children, very seriously".

Ukie chief executive Jo Twist said:

We welcome any guidance from the OFT [Office of Fair Trading] to clarify how they are interpreting the law and shall be taking our time to digest the proposed guidelines before responding fully to the OFT’s consultation.

Smurfs' Village added features 'to protect customers'

The maker of the free-to-download game Smurfs' Village said the last thing they want "is to be misperceived as taking advantage of children."

Capcom, the parent company of games maker Beeline, said: "Since this issue has come to our attention we’ve added a number of features and messages to the game to help protect customers.

Capcom is the parent company of Beeline, the maker of Smurfs' Village. Credit: Smurfs' Village

"If a customer purchases in-App content by accident, they may also request a refund.”


How to turn off in-app purchases

Screenshot of iPad settings Credit: ITV News

The online games app industry has been warned by the Office of Fair Trading of "potentially unfair and aggressive commercial practices" that could target "susceptible" children to pay to continue playing 'free' web and app-based games.

Child spends £87.98 on 'pay to play' game in 15 minutes

As an experiment, Daybreak asked four children to play games that were free to download but each child was given the password to buy extras.

Harry managed to spend £87.98 on the game in just 15 minutes - and he did not realise he had spent any at all.

Harry did not realise he had spent any money on the game. Credit: ITV/Daybreak

When asked Harry said, "I didn't spend any I don't think."

The makers of Smurfs' Village, the game the children played, said once they became aware of the problem they made changes to the game, including limiting the number of possible transactions.


Watchdog's guidelines for online gaming industry

The OFT has released eight principles for 'pay to play' online game developers, which it plans to begin enforcing in April next year.

They include:

  • Games should display clear, accurate, up-front information about the costs associated with a game before consumers download it
  • Games should provide clear contact details for the business - which should respond rapidly to consumer complaints
  • Games should not give false impressions that payments are an integral part of the way the game is played if that is not the case
  • Games should not include aggressive practices, or ones that exploit a child's inexperience, such as implying a character would be disappointed if they did not spend money

Martin Lewis - online gaming needs stronger rules

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, made these suggestions for preventing children being exploited by the online gaming industry:

  • Rules that stop bait pricing on games predominantly targeted at children
  • Wealth warnings both at the start of games and inside app stores to indicate it is an in-app purchase game
  • Caps on how much can be spent on such purchases within an hour, which can only be removed by the cardholder.

'Money saving expert' slams OFT guidance as 'flaccid'

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, described the OFT consultation into online gaming charges as "flaccid".

When games like My Little Pony and others charge £69 a pop for children to buy 'gems', there is something almost sinister happening.

Many of these free games take advantage of children's confusion between virtual and real money and some parents' technical illiteracy.

The OFT consultation is flaccid - the problems are apparent and games makers and app stores need to be held to account.

– Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com

'Scandal of pay to play online games must end'

Citizens Advice has called for OFT guidelines to back strong enforcement for online games that try to pressure players into making purchases.

The service said one man it helped had been landed with a £200 bill racked up on a game played by his 10-year-old son, and was told the only way to get his money back would be to sue the child.

The scandal of online games which try to pressure or trick players into making extra purchases must end.

We've seen parents turning to us after their children inadvertently run up huge bills for downloads, so we welcome the OFT's moves to clamp down on the practice.

– Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice
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