|November 11, 2013|
Previously published on November 7, 2013
In April 2013 the UK Office of Fair Trading (the UK's consumer and competition regulator) (the “OFT”) launched an investigation into the way to police how children were being encouraged to make purchases whilst playing online and app-based games (particularly ‘in-game’ purchases in free games).
In September 2013, the OFT published a set of eight industry wide principles governing this issue, “to make clear the OFT’s view on businesses’ obligations under consumer protection law and what they should do to avoid being the subject of targeted enforcement action”. The principles are open to consultation until 21 November 2013 and comments can be made on the following link: http://www.oft.gov.uk/OFTwork/consumer-enforcement/consumer-enforcement-current/childrens-online-games/online-games-form. Thereafter, the finalised principles will be published in January/February 2014 and enforcement action may then be taken from April 2014 against infringers. Watch this space for further updates.
The principles themselves, which will apply to any interactive entertainment business targeting UK consumers, can be viewed on the following link: http://www.oft.gov.uk/shared&under;oft/consumer-enforcement/oft1506a.pdf. It should be noted that they are guidance only and whilst adherence to them may make compliance with applicable consumer legislation more likely, it is EU and UK consumer legislation itself that must be complied with.
They do appear, on the whole, sensible and represent parameters in which it may be expected that businesses would already be operating, although its notable that the OFT reported in a press release accompanying the principles that it found some games were currently exercising “potentially unfair and aggressive commercial practices” implying that these practices would not currently adhere to the principles. As an example, the principles include that information about the costs associated with a game appear upfront (principle 1) and that games should not include direct exhortations to children to make an in-game purchase (principle 7).
One final comment from the OFT, worthy of note, is that it “intends to share the principles with [its] international consumer enforcement counterparts to achieve consistency...in compliance and enforcement strategies”. This means there may be potential for other jurisdictions to follow suit.