The European Commission is taking action regarding the "free to play" label tacked on many titles that offer in-game upgrades and purchases, as it seems they will no longer be able to use the "free" particle soon.
Reportedly, complaints from consumers who have made in-game purchases in free-to-play titles without realizing it have become a common thing and are widespread enough that an intervention from the mandating authority is in order, as GI reports.
As such, the European Commission is now meeting with national enforcement authorities as well as tech companies, in order to analyze the concerns related to consumer protection in the ever-growing free-to-play market.
"Consumers and in particular children need better protection against unexpected costs from in-app purchases," consumer policy commissioner Neven Mimica said in a statement.
The issue is not only causing financial harm to end users, but it can also affect the credibility of the entire market. As such, a list of common positions on the subject has been released by the Consumer Protection Cooperation and the European Community member states, listing misleading advertising as the main concern.
"The use of the word 'free' (or similar unequivocal terms) as such, and without any appropriate qualifications, should only be allowed for 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," the group stated.
Aside from the "free" moniker, the mandating body also wants game developers to stop using direct calls to make in-game transactions, such as prompt screens, in any title that is likely to appeal to children, in order for the purchases to be made with an adult's explicit consent.
Additionally, all apps and app listings should feature an e-mail address to which costumers can direct questions regarding in-game monetization, before deciding whether to play or even download a game.
As the saying goes, you can sheer a sheep many times, but only skin it once, and some companies are trying to milk the free-to-play trend with purchase prompts that continuously hassle you to "Buy Now!" and severe gameplay limitations, as well as pay-to-win packages that often stir the ire of the community, especially since they are competing in the same arena as other more honest developers who use cosmetic purchases or ones that just save you some time and don't shove the store front in your face all the time.
For now, a common understanding between game companies and the authorities has to be reached, working in tandem with national consumer rights enforcement bodies in order to see what action is deemed necessary to enforce.