European Commission Issues New Rules for Free To Play Games

You can’t call them free to play if they’re not actually free.

Dungeon Keeper

Free to play games are the most misleadingly named kind of product ever- while there are, of course, examples of actual, well made, exemplary free to play games (such as Path of Exile, League of Legends, Team Fortress 2, DOTA 2, Hearthstone, Killer Instinct), most of them (especially the ones on smartphones and tablets) are exploitative services designed to forsake balance in order to extract as much money from the customer as possible, making them terrible as games (since there are no gameplay mechanics, only mechanics to encourage the spending of real money), and even worse as products.

It appears that the European Commission has had enough of this, as it has issued new guidelines regarding these ‘free to play’ games, and the misappropriation of the label. The new guidelines include:

• Games advertised as “free” should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved;

• Games should not contain direct exhortation 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 for purchases and should not be debited through default settings without consumers’ explicit consent

Google has already acted on a number of these. Apple, so far, has not, although with the rulings now being made official, it’s only a matter of time before they do.

This is the very first enforcement action of its kind in which the European Commission and national authorities joined forces. I am happy to see that it is delivering tangible results. This is significant for consumers. In particular, children must be better protected when playing online. The action also provides invaluable experience for the ongoing reflection on how to most effectively organise the enforcement of consumer rights in the Union. It has demonstrated that cooperation pays off and helps to improve the protection of consumers in all Member States,” said EU Commissioner for Consumer Policy Neven Mimica.

Vice President Neelie Kroes, responsible for the Digital Agenda, added: “The Commission is very supportive of innovation in the app sector. In-app purchases are a legitimate business model, but it’s essential for app-makers to understand and respect EU law while they develop these new business models”.

Personally, I am all on board with this idea. Hopefully the rest of the world follows suit.


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