Game developers and app sellers are getting a stern talking to from the European Union.

This week, Apple and Google are meeting with the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, to cover the conflicts that free-to-play games present to consumer protection. The app industry employs 1 million people in Europe, and in-app purchases generate more than $13.8 billion in revenue across the continent, according to analytics firm Distimo. To maintain those jobs and the influx of cash, the EU wants to ensure that it can trust that free-to-play games are not employing deceptive tactics to squeeze money from under-informed players. This meeting is focusing on mobile even while the microtransaction model grows on traditional platforms like PC. That’s likely because the big free games on PC (like action-strategy title League of Legends) have a reputation for fairness.

“Europe’s app industry has enormous potential, both to generate jobs and growth, and to improve our daily lives through innovative technology,” EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding said in a statement. “For the sector to deliver on its potential, consumers must have confidence in new products.”

The commission explained that it was holding these hearings following “complaints from all over Europe.” These deal with games that encourage players, especially kids, to make in-app purchases while presenting the product as totally free.


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“Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model and also goes against the spirit of EU rules on consumer protection,” said Reding. “The European Commission will expect very concrete answers from the app industry to the concerns raised by citizens and national consumer organisations.”

The EU plans to discuss a number of issues with the industry. It wants games marketed as “free” to in no way mislead gamers about the true costs involved. Apps should not emphatically urge children to buy items. Players should know the exact payment arrangements, and developers should not set up games to accept payments without first getting full consent. Finally, developers should make their email address available to consumers to answer complaints and queries.

“Consumers, and in particular children, need better protection against unexpected costs from in-app purchases,” EU commissioner Neven Mimica said. “National enforcement authorities and the European Commission are discussing with industry how to address this issue which not only causes financial harm to consumers but can also put at stake the credibility of this very promising market. Coming up with concrete solutions as soon as possible will be a win-win for all.”

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