Web game extras get Office of Fair Trading scrutiny


Cavendish Elithorn, OFT: "It's important parents understand... how much they're going to cost"

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Web and phone games aimed at children that charge for extras are being investigated by the Office of Fair Trading.

The OFT wants to find out if the games put undue pressure on children to pay for additional content.

Many games ask players to pay to get coins, gems or other virtual items to speed their progress through levels.

The OFT wants to hear from parents who have seen firms aggressively pushing in-game content to children.

High cost

The investigation comes alongside media reports about children spending large sums on virtual items for smartphone and web games.

In March, five-year-old schoolboy Danny Kitchen, from Bristol, managed to rack up charges of more than £1,700 while playing the Zombies versus Ninjas game on his parents' iPad. The money has since been refunded by Apple.

The BBC's Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones explains some of the things you can do to prevent charges from web and phone games

In January this year, regulator PhonePayPlus revealed it had seen a 300% increase in complaints from consumers about the bills generated when they buy add-ons for games and other apps.

In its investigation, the OFT wants to find out if the games are "misleading, commercially aggressive or otherwise unfair" when they give people the chance to buy extras. It also wants to find out if children are being specifically targeted by such applications.

"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," said Cavendish Elithorn, the OFT's senior director for goods and consumer.

Makers of games that strongly encourage children to buy or pressure them to ask parents to buy on their behalf could be breaking laws on fair trading, said the OFT.

Mr Elithorn said the OFT did not want to ban in-game purchases, but wanted to be sure that games-makers are complying with relevant laws. Consumer groups or parents with evidence of games aggressively marketing in-game extras should contact the OFT, it said.

Figures gathered by the OFT reveal that the vast majority of the most popular smartphone games were free to install but raised cash for their creators via in-app purchases. Such extras were priced very differently, it said, with some costing only a few pence but the most high-priced were £70.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    As I said before.
    My mother (61) has her password set up on her iPad.
    If I'm at her house and using it and wanting to do anything that costs money. I have to hand the device to her so she can input her password.

    I'm 33. Parents with todlers have NO EXCUSE.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    If your child is too young to understand (or not trustworthy enough not to use) micro-transactions in games. Then why are parents letting them play the games unsupervised? Since when has it been the game makers job to look after someone else's children?

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Surely if you've reached the age where you have children, you must realise that there's no such thing as a free lunch. If an app is "free" - then ask how they make their money. It could be advertising during the game, it could install some annoying advertising program onto your phone, or it could require these microtransactions.
    If you're not sure, look it up, it's your responsibility!

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Parents may not be shirking their responsibility just being niave. The IT programmers seem to be unable to understand that there are people who do not have IT built in to their psyche. I found setting controls very difficult and I solved the problem by switching off all games and apps on a kindle used by my grandchildren. No more downloaded games bought or free.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Many apps sole incomes are from paid-for extras.To describe this as dishonest is ludicrous if they make it clear that certain features will cost money.The current system of using passwords on,say,Android prevents kids from spending their parents money.It's a case of educating parents to not give away their credit card, and ensuring that products provide clear info about costs.


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