Britain's consumer watchdog has launched a probe into whether young
people are being unfairly pressured into buying extra content on
supposedly free online games, amid media reports of children running up
bills of hundreds of pounds without their parents' knowledge.
investigation by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) will look at the many
games that are free to sign up to but incur charges afterwards.
of them offer the opportunity to "upgrade" free accounts through
paid-for membership, providing more access than with the free account.
Others encourage purchases to speed up game play or to give access to
In particular, the OFT will consider whether these
apps push children to buy something or to pester their parents or other
adults for it.
"We are concerned that children and their parents
could be subject to unfair pressure to purchase when they are playing
games they thought were free, but which can actually run up substantial
costs," said Cavendish Elithorn, OFT Senior Director for Goods and
Consumer, adding that the OFT is not seeking to ban in-game purchases.
The OFT will look into whether the full cost of some of these games is made clear when they are first downloaded.
BBC reported the case of five-year-old schoolboy Danny Kitchen, from
Bristol, who managed to rack up charges of more than 1,700 pounds last
month while playing the Zombies versus Ninjas game on his parents' iPad.
The money has since been refunded by Apple.
In January, regulator
PhonePayPlus said it had seen a fourfold increase in complaints related
to children and mobile apps and warned parents of the potential costs
of initially free applications.
The OFT said it was unable to say
which companies it was investigating and that no assumption should be
made that any of them have broken the law.
© Thomson Reuters 2013