updated 08:08 am EST, Thu January 30, 2014
Developers have three months to apply OFT rules to apps
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has published its final principles for in-app purchases, following its investigation into the practice. The British regulator has given game and app developers until April 1st to abide by the new rules, which are designed to protect children from buying bonuses and items from within games, without parental knowledge of the potentially high prices.
The new guidelines require that users get told about costs or in-game advertising before installation, to not mislead players into paying for items in order to proceed in a game, and to avoid using language that would be emotionally exploitative, such as suggesting an in-game character would be unhappy if the player failed to buy items. The BBC reports that apps can only proceed to take a payment after the account holder has provided "Informed Consent," and that there must be a clear way to contact the app developer to complain. Citizens Advice has provided a series of videos on its website, in order to help parents understand how such purchases work, and how to prevent such actions in the future.
"Many children enjoy playing these types of games. This rapidly growing creative sector has also brought wider economic benefits," said OFT chief executive Clive Maxwell, continuing "The online and apps-based games industry has already made significant improvements during our consultation process. But it still needs to do more to protect children and treat its customers fairly."
An in-app purchases warning in the Apple App Store
Last year, Apple provided a refund to one family in the UK after their five-year-old son "unintentionally" bought over $2,500 in in-game items. Months later, Apple was again pressurized by the media to offer a refund of $6,000 to another family. Earlier this month, it was revealed Apple is also paying out at least $32.5 million in refunds for in-app purchases, in order to settle a lawsuit brought by the US Federal Trade Commission.
Both Apple and Google have added in-app purchase warnings to their store pages, after the initial instances.