UK Investigators Take Hard Look At In-App Game Purchases

In-App game purchases aimed at children are being investigated by a government department in the UK. The Office Of Fair Trading (OFT), is attempting to figure out which methods developers use to encourage children to perform “misleading, commercially aggressive, or otherwise unfair” purchases.

The office is turning to parents for help, asking them to report any games they see that provide aggressive pressure to perform micropayments.

OFT senior director for goods and consumer Cavendish Elithorn tells the BBC:

“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.”

The UK government in 2008 passed the Consumer Protection (from Unfair Trade) Regulations which specifically state that advertisers can now include “direct exhortations” to children in order to sell products. Advertisers also cannot persuade adults to make the purchase on behalf of their children.

The OFT doesn’t want to ban in-app game purchases; they are simply attempting to bring the gaming industry in-line with current regulation. The agency has promised to “take enforcement action if necessary,” although they have not said what those steps might entail.

We reported earlier this year about one family in the UK who received a $2,500 refund from Apple after a free iPad game led to the massive charge in just 15 minutes. The father who had keyed in his password to download the game didn’t realize his child in the short term could make purchases. In another case, a 13-year-old boy of a policeman spent $5,700 for in-game content on the iPad.

Apple for its part has attempted to warn parents of the dangers involving in-app game purchases. All Apple games now come with an age recommendation and other information parents should understand.

Do you think in-app game purchases need to be more heavily restricted?