Not So Fast, Free-to-Play: U.K. Places Restrictions on Common Practices

By: Max Metzler

The United Kingdom is getting serious about consumer protection in free-to-play gaming. Its Office of Fair Trading has announced a set of principles designed to allay some common consumer complaints about the FTP business model, which has come under fire recently for what some call unfair or predatory practices with in-game purchases.

The regulations feature 8 “principles” to guide game developers in making compliant games.  These include: clearly advertising, before purchase of the main game, what in-game purchases are required to complete the game; distinguishing in-game communications from prompts to make an in-game purchase; and avoiding tactics that “are aggressive, or which otherwise have the potential to exploit a child’s inherent inexperience, vulnerability or credulity.”  The principles are quite thorough and cover most of the FTP practices that are often complained about.  They do not appear to be designed to hinder the model in any way, only to ensure that the consumer truly knows what she is getting when purchasing or beginning to play a freemium or FTP game.

This comes after controversy about FTP games developed in the United States in the wake of stories of children playing the games and racking up thousands of dollars of charges on their parents’ iOS accounts.  The FTC has specifically ordered Apple to repay millions in these kins of charges, as well as to take steps to regulate them in the future, but no broader regulation has been issued.

Love it or hate it, FTP is probably not going anywhere.  Absent more global and aggressive reforms like the U.K.’s Eight Principles, video game companies appear highly likely to continue to use the model due to its ease of monetization.  We’ve discussed the one of the major quirks of the model–that it is often propped up by “whale” players who pay astronomical sums for in-game items and advancement–on the blog before, a fact which casts dubious light on the model on its own.  It’s hard to argue with its success as a business model, but are such (often) predatory practices good for an industry that is well on its way to finding mainstream legitimacy?  On the other side of the coin, should other governments, including the United States, follow in the U.K.’s footsteps? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *