Thursday 6 March 2014


The European Commission1 wants to stop games companies from misleading consumers about the true costs of games advertised as "free". Here's what Neven Mimica, the European Commissioner for Consumer Policy says

  • Games advertised as “free” should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved;
  • Games should not contain direct exhortations to children to buy items in a game or to persuade an adult to buy items for them;
  • Consumers should be adequately informed about the payment arrangements and purchases should not be debited through default settings without consumers’ explicit consent;
  • Traders should provide an email address so that consumers can contact them in case of queries or complaints.

One might imagine that such aims are laudable. After all, we are all well aware of how so-called "free" games (especially those on mobile platforms) have mostly morphed into the most blatant adware, trying to sell you the means to actually enjoy playing the game (through in-app purchases) you thought was free to play.

The most pernicious of these games wait until you've invested your time in the game before telling you that to continue playing you must pay money. In other words, they hold your personal investment (for instance, your character if its an RPG) to ransom until you pay them money. I don't mind paying money for games, but I do mind when a game advertises itself as free, and then asks me for money, so I'm very happy with the EC

Azuriel, who describes himself as "as pro-consumer as you can possibly get" is annoyed, though, by Mimica trying to define what "free" means. Especially that it might only be applied to "games which are indeed free in their entirety, or in other words which contain no possibility of making in-app purchases, not even on an optional basis".

I'm pretty pleased with the EC's proposals. If games companies want to sell stuff to us or our kids, it's right that they be up-front about the costs, rather than trying to hide behind the word free. Azuriel's view seems to be "if I can play any part of it for free, I'm happy with it being described as 'free'" (feel free to correct me if that's wrong, Azuriel). So for instance, he thinks Dungeon Keeper is a great example of a free game. Take a look at Thomas Baekdal's comparison of the current EA ransomware version of dungeon keeper and it's 1997 original version before you make up your mind.

There's no reason why we shouldn't demand that games companies be more upfront about the costs of playing a game. For instance, here's how these games could be described:

This is Thomas Baekdal's suggestion for fixing the problem. What's wrong with that?

These changes are coming. The EU is fed up with ransomware and is going to do something about it. The UK is fed up with ransomware and is going to do something about it. The US is fed up with ransomware and is going to do something about it. Make sure you have your say on what you want done. Commissioner Mimica can be contacted through

1. The European Commission is basically the executive government of the European Union, and the Commissioners are the equivalent of ministers or departmental secretaries of state.

No comments:

Post a Comment