Office of Fair Trading investigating in-app purchases


The OFT has launched an investigation into whether children are being unfairly pressured or encouraged to pay for additional content in ‘free’ web and app-based games, including upgraded membership or virtual currency such as coins, gems or fruit. Typically, players can access only portions of these games for free, with new levels or features, such as faster game play, costing money.

It’s good to see that the OFT is taking a further look into this. It’s a shame that this has likely been triggered by the recent spate of kids running up huge IAP purchase bills but anything that could potentially reduce this scourge is welcoming news.

Whilst you could argue that in-app purchases aren’t specifically aimed into children and there isn’t any pressure to pay for additional content, many games using IAPs have an almost crippled experience and the only way to progress further, or actually enjoy it, is to purchase additional content. The OFT isn’t specifically investigating that but IAPs have been widely used in gaming and the link to children making the purchases (usually without consent) could mean some developers are targeting younger users with nag screens, push notifications and disabled features which have a poorly explained purchase process. That alone is something I’ve seen certain games do.

IAPs, just like downloadable content for video games, should be available to enhance the experience, not be an essential part of it.