Making game apps pay: the OFT’s warning about in-app purchases

The use of in-app purchases has become increasingly popular, particularly in games. This monetisation model involves the sale of game-play extras to users in order to add an additional revenue stream. For example, the hugely popular app game ‘Infinity Blade’ enables users to purchase swords and other in-game items with real money for use in virtual battles as they progress through the game.

Although games such as ‘Infinity Blade’ are of most appeal to adults, there has been a marked increase in the number of games that use in-app purchases that are targeted at children. Public awareness of the issue was raised earlier this year by several high-profile news reports of children who had spent a fortune on in-app purchases — such as the British child who spent £1,700 playing ‘Zombies vs Ninja’ and another who purchased £980 worth of virtual donuts in ‘The Simpsons: Tapped Out’.

In was, therefore, unsurprising that the UK’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) announced in April its investigation into the ways in which online and app-based games encourage children to make purchases. The OFT mentioned, in particular, that it planned to look into whether these games include unlawful ‘direct exhortations to children — a strong encouragement to make a purchase, or to do something that will necessitate making a purchase, or to persuade their parents or other adults to make a purchase for them’. This is unlawful under the UK’s Consumer Protection (from Unfair Trading) Regulations 2008…

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