The reaction to free-to-play games that monetize by the use of in-app purchases (or IAPs, for short) depends on where you ask about them. They’re a normal part of the gaming culture in Asia and looked upon with skepticism but warily accepted in North America.
In Europe, though, they’re now under the microscope. Eurogamer.net reported this morning that the European Commission is huddling with consumer protection groups in multiple nations to get some clarification on parts of the free-to-play model it finds troubling.
The Commission’s concerns include protecting children from IAPs (and preventing them from bugging parents to buy for them), games that opt-in players for IAPs without their consent, free games that aren’t really free, and companies that don’t provide a way for players to contact them by email for customer service purposes.
In true “probably not a coincidence” spirit, the Commission’s investigation comes just a few weeks after the Office of Fair Trading in the UK did some similar digging and ended up proposing a list of principles governing mobile and online games that companies must conform to within 60 days. Not surprisingly, the short list checks off several of the same items the EC would like to see heeded.
Since the PR backlash of stories about kids running up huge bills on their parents accounts with IAPs wasn’t enough to stop bad actors in the mobile and online spaces, it might take the force of law to change things. It’s not impossible to envision that kind of scenario in North America either, especially since Apple and Google are in on the current meetings.
Until that happens, it’s wise to keep this in mind: free-to-play doesn’t usually mean completely free, and it’s always a good idea to stay aware of any ways a game is trying to get you to pay.