The term “free-to-play” has a very loose meaning nowadays as most games listed as such include some sort of in-app marketplace where you can exchange real cash for in-game items. This has caused controversies left right and center with parents allowing their children to play such games and have gone ahead and spent hundreds, and even thousands of pounds on these items without their knowledge. In an effort to put a stop to this the European Commission has put in a request to Apple and Google to stop listing games that have in-app-purchases as free, something that Google have agreed to do by the end of the year.
UK regulators have recently given EA a slap on the wrist for their “free-to-play” mobile instalment of Dungeon Keeper which actually requires players to pay real cash in order to proceed. This has caused EA to no longer call the game a “free-to-play” game.
In an effort to “show the true cost” of games, the European Commission announced today that Google will institute a number of changes by the end of September, one of which is to stop listing games with in-app-purchases as “free.” Another is to add a stumbling block for those who attempt to purchase in-game items by requiring the payment to be authorised beforehand – something which can be turned off. Another measure is to stop developers from strongly appealing to children to buy items – something which I’d have thought would be there from the beginning.
As for Apple on the other hand, The EC have revealed that the company has “regrettably” made “no concrete and immediate solutions” to the aforementioned concerns but Apple have said that they do plan to make changes. As and when that’ll happen though is unknown as Apple refused to give any real timeline. In a statement to Engadget, Apple did say;
“The parental controls in iOS are strong, intuitive and customizable. And over the last year we made sure any app which enables customers to make in-app purchases is clearly marked. We’ve also created a Kids Section on the App Store with even stronger protections to cover apps designed for children younger than 13.
“These controls go far beyond the features of others in the industry. But we are always working to strengthen the protections we have in place, and we’re adding great new features with iOS 8, such as Ask to Buy, giving parents even more control over what their kids can buy on the App Store.”
When the changes are made in both App stores, we’re unsure whether this will be limited just to Europe, or whether both companies will roll out the changes worldwide to further increase the protection of those more likely to purchase in-game items without permission.