Insert Coin to Continue: ‘Free-to-Play’ Kids’ Games Unlawful?

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch” was a phrase that everyone  heard whilst growing up. It seems now the same can be applied to free games. Micro-transactions and virtual currencies are abound, differing between games and even within the same publisher.Now, with their adorably tiny brains and need for instant-gratification, it seems children are starting to fall prey to these systems. Won’t somebody think of the children?!

You might have seen the recent stories of Apple having to reimburse parents whose children had spent their money on in-app purchases, in some cases up to nearly $400. Well now, the UK Office of Fair Trading is looking at games and apps marketed at children in order to see whether publishers are unfairly pressuring children or parents into making the micro-transactions in order to further enjoy their ‘free-game’. Depending on their findings, it could be found that this practice is deemed unlawful under Consumer Protection laws.

It is stressed by the OFT that they are not looking for in-app purchases to be banned entirely, but that it wants to see the games industry acting within regulations enforced on other businesses, including full details of additional cost being clearly app-arent (hah!) when the programme is initially downloaded by parents.

As a business model, the micro-transaction seems to be a very successful way of doing business, even if it is insidious. Gamers can choose to spend either time or money to continue playing. For an adult, we can exercise patience, or at least find something else to distract us. But the choice between spending a few cents or waiting hours will be an easy one in the mind of a young child, or even just pushing the larger, more colourful icon (which happens to come with a price-tag.)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tend to my crops. Only 4 hours until my Blurpleberries are done!

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