Game developers and app creators could be facing some stricter requirements from the European Union when it comes to their free-to-play games. Google and Apple are both set to meet with the European Commission to discuss free-to-play games and how the consumer uses these games. Specifically, the EU wants to ensure customers are not being deceived by free-to-play titles that are solely more of the "pay-to-win" type.
Over 1 million people are currently working in the app development space over in Europe, with in-game transactions currently generating over $13.8 billion in revenue. Because of the space rapidly growing overseas, the Union now looks to set some standards around how app developers should introduce in-app purchases to their titles. Unlike PC games where publishers are more identifiable and free-to-play franchises conduct themselves more ethically, mobile games can be created by almost anyone, with a lower cost barrier to entry on the content creator side. Because of this, apps of late, both overseas and here in the States, have tended to be more deceptive, especially from unknown publishers. These copy-cat or even legit titles usually take advantage of the lesser-educated player, which is where the cause for concern from the European Union comes from.
Stemming from complaints from parents and kids alike about some apps in the market posing to be free but encouraging players to make purchases with "in-game currency," EU's justice commissioner Viviane Reding issued a statement on the matter.
Europe's app industry has enormous potential, both to generate jobs and growth, and to improve our daily lives through innovative technology. For the sector to deliver on its potential, consumers must have confidence in new products. Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model and also goes against the spirit of EU rules on consumer protection. The European Commission will expect very concrete answers from the app industry to the concerns raised by citizens and national consumer organisations. (sic)
I don't know how it works over there, but over here, when parents complain, Apple pays them over $100 million because they weren't watching their kids. It feels like the same thing is happening here, except the EU is being a bit pro-active and trying to ensure a lawsuit like that won't occur. The intention is to make the games clearly specify that free-to-play games might actually have a cost attached to them. This includes making sure that fees are prominently displayed and developers working to set up games that require a parent's consent, how ever that works. The EU also wants to see apps not "emphatically convince" children to make in-game purchases, which kind of goes back to parental awareness of children's activity on a device with a credit card attached.
I have mixed feelings about this, as I can see how some free games don't really define their costs upfront. But I am also of the opinion that all parties involved in gaming should be aware enough of the fact that developers make games to make money, and they have to do it one way or another. If the game is free, there's probably an underlying cost somewhere. The question is will children or adults be able to calm the urge to win the game over simply playing it? Usually that's where the cost lies and where developers earn more of their revenue. If people don't have self-control and can't prevent themselves from pressing that "buy" button, should we really police that?
What's your take on all of this? Sound off in the comments below.