The boom for Apps on the iPad, iPhone, Blackberry devices and all other leading technology that gives users the ability to download games, straight to their Smartphone, tablets, or laptops, have gained momentum over the last few years.
The App development business is a relatively new career field, but now the companies behind some of the Webs largest games, are under investigation by the Office of Fair Trading. The complaints are racking up from consumers, about the way the games are handled and marketed.
The UK has one of the world’s strictest legislation regarding how products are advertised to children. With free to download Apps, making it easy for any kid to download and start playing their favourite games, the problems come in later, when the games become…not so free at all.
There’s premium upgrades to purchase jewels, gems, or any other item that can help gamers progress and unlock new levels of difficulty, or any other virtual items, sold as a premium. One such game to hit the media spotlight was the Zombies Vs Ninjas game, available through iTunes, as a free download.
Once you start playing, there are then premium items available for purchase. This game came to the media’s attention after a couple received a bill for £1700, which had been spent on items within the free to download App, by their five-year old son. The couple did pay the invoice; however, Apple has since refunded the money.
With downloads being so easy to do, and at the flick of your finger, you’re spending a fortune, and when kids aren’t being monitored constantly, it’s what else that’s happening in the games that the OFT want to know about.
There have been complaints made regarding what’s considered aggressive marketing tactics, designed to target a younger audience. What the investigation wants to unveil is what really happens when you download these games.
Are there passwords required to buy items? or is it just billed through your phone subscription. This is what makes it so easy for children to flick a screen and rack up their parents phone bills. Companies could be seen as taking advantage of this, as they aren’t really advertising to kids as such. This is creating somewhat of a loophole within the OFT regulations on advertising to minors are these aren’t under the sector of advertising, although it is still viewed as marketing to minors.
What is clear-cut is that something does need to be done, to protect minors from being exploited for profits through virtual gaming. What some companies are thought to be doing is developing games for the younger audience, then locking certain content within the games, so when a player reaches a certain level, it’s game over! Unless you purchase virtual items, to access the premium version.
This is the sort of underhanded tactics the OFT is looking to address, and right now their looking for the input of parents to assist them with the investigation.
For the Office of Fair Trading to find out if developers are being commercially aggressive, they are appealing to parents and consumer groups, to get in touch with them with any supporting evidence they have. So far, the evidence submitted has seen some games advertise as being free to download, and then marketing in-game extras, where they then make their revenue.
Where this crosses into breaking the law, by the App Developers is when it encourages kids to act in a manner to pressure parents into making the purchase for them.
The typical pricing is a few pence per add-on, but overtime those few pence can soon rack up. There have been others reported to have fees per add-on as high as £70.
With the App development industry seeing rapid growth in games, it seems that now is the time for a regulatory body to ensure that best practices are maintained in the best interest of the consumer.