OFT's 8 (online and in-app gaming) 'Commandments'

Has your 12 year old ever pressured you into letting them purchase more lives as they desperately try to complete level 133 on Candy Crush? Unaware of the mechanics behind the purchase you hesitantly agree just to keep the peace. Meanwhile, at the other end of the "app" payment, an online games provider rubs their hands together to mark another victory as they take advantage of a naive  customer…welcome to the merciless "app eat app" jungle that we currently live in.

The Office of Fair Trading ("OFT") conducted a market investigation in 2013 as it had concerns that there were industry-wide practices that were potentially misleading, commercially aggressive or unfair in relation to online and in-app gaming.

In particular, the OFT's investigation analysed whether children were being intentionally targeted by online gaming companies to purchase "add-on" content. It was concluded that some of these web/app-based games were implementing potentially unfair and aggressive practices to take advantage of those young naive minds looking for their next app-game fix, providing them with bragging rights in relation to getting a near perfect high score in Temple Run.

The day of reckoning finally arrived on 30 January 2014 when the OFT unleashed the 8 online/app-game principles ("Commandments") aimed at regulating online gaming companies and ensuring that  online/in-app games do not breach consumer protection law. The Commandments must be adopted by online gaming companies by 1 April 2014. The 8 Commandments are:

  1. Thou shall provide clear, accurate and prominently up-front information about the costs associated with a game before the consumer plays, downloads or makes a purchase;
  2. Thou shall provide all material information about a game (including information about its main characteristics and any other information required for the average consumer to make an informed decision to purchase the game) before the consumer begins to play, download or buy the game;
  3. Thou shall provide information about the game provider up-front, before the consumer plays, downloads or agrees to make a purchase. It should be clear to the consumer who they can contact if they have any queries/ complaints. If the consumer is under an obligation to pay, the consumer must be able to retain that information in a durable form;
  4. Thou shall distinguish the commercial intent of any in-game promotional material relating to chargeable content from actual gameplay;
  5. Thou shall not mislead consumers by giving the false impression that payments are required or form an integral part of the way the game is played if that is not the case;
  6. 6. Thou shall not adopt aggressive practices which could exploit a child's inexperience, vulnerability or naivety, or put pressure on a child to make a purchase;
  7. Thou shall not include direct statements that encourage children to make a purchase or persuade others to make a purchase for them;
  8. Thou shall not take payments from the account holder without gaining express informed consent (i.e. such consent should not be assumed through the use of opt-out methods).

If you are an online gaming company, failure to comply with the Commandments could result in enforcement action.

Further Information

If you have any questions or require specific advice on any matter discussed in this publication, please contact Kay-Leigh Keen (T: 01332 225 279 or E: kay-leigh.keen@smithpartnership.co.uk) or Balraj Kang (T: 01332 225 416 or E: balraj.kang@smithpartnership.co.uk)

Kay-Leigh Keen (Trainee Solicitor) & Balraj Kang (paralegal), Company & Commercial Team, Smith Partnership