European Commission Looking to Crackdown on Free-to-Play Apps

Free-to-Play is quickly becoming a dominant force in the games industry.  The once lucrative market of handheld gaming is being overridden by mobile devices and the wide availability of apps, some paid and some “free.”  This app economy is “booming” in Europe employing over 1 million people and will be worth about €63bn within the next five years.  However, there is a growing trend that the European Commission is worried about.

Free-to-Play games aren’t really free, they’re just free to download and play a very base game.  A majority of the game’s content is locked behind a pay barrier.  Some Free-to-Play apps like The Simpsons: Tapped Out gives players a ton of content up front, but withhold some of the better content to make the players pay.  Another tactic is to make them wait large amounts of time in the hope of forcing the players to pay to end the wait.  It’s these types of business plans that the European Commission says needs an overhaul.

“Europe’s app industry has enormous potential, both to generate jobs and growth, and to improve our daily lives through innovative technology,” said EU’s Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding. “For the sector to deliver on its potential consumers must have confidence in new products. Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model and also goes against the spirit of EU rules on consumer protection. The European Commission will expect very concrete answers from the app industry to the concerns raised by citizens and national consumer organisations.”

“Consumers and in particular children need better protection against unexpected costs from in-app purchases,” continued Consumer Policy Commissioner Neven Mimica National enforcement authorities and the European Commission are discussing with industry how to address this issue which not only causes financial harm to consumers but can also put at stake the credibility of this very promising market. Coming up with concrete solutions as soon as possible will be a win-win for all.”

The European Commission will meet with key members of the industry to discuss the following issues:

  • Games advertised as “free” should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved;
  • Games should not contain direct exhortations to children to buy items in a game or to persuade an adult to buy items for them;
  • Consumers should be adequately informed about the payment arrangements and purchases should not be debited through default settings without consumers’ explicit consent;
  • Traders should provide an email address so that consumers can contact them in case of queries or complaints.

We’ll keep you updated on what the European Commission decides.