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Google Won't Allow Games With In-App Purchases to Call Themselves "Free"

Right now, it's a change rolling out in Europe, but we can only hope it makes the leap overseas.

In the world of free-to-play, the term free has begun to lose its original meaning, especially given the rise of in-app purchases. The European Commission got fed up, and asked both Apple and Google to implement changes, which will result in Google preventing games with in-app purchases from labeling themselves as free.

Even though I don't really play many of these games, it's hard to argue these additional clarifications aren't desperately needed for a sector of video games that feels increasingly focused on misleading consumers about the true cost of playing. Free is no longer free.

"This is significant for consumers" said EU Commissioner for Consumer Policy Neven Mimic as part of the announcement. "In particular, children must be better protected when playing online."

It's unclear if these changes will be reflected worldwide, but Google promised the changes would be implemented by the end of September in Europe.

The EU wasn't happy with Apple's response, though it acknowledged the company would be tackling the problem. In a statement to Engadget, it pointed to its parental control settings, curated Kids Section on the App Store, and an upcoming iOS 8 feature where in-app purchases need to be personally approved by a parent.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by Brendan

Step in the right direction, I like it!

Posted by Mr_Creeper

Clarification is usually a good thing, but I'd have to agree with Apple; if this is based mostly on kids buying shit without knowing any better, that's the parents responsibility.

Posted by shishkebab09

Clarification is usually a good thing, but I'd have to agree with Apple; if this is based mostly on kids buying shit without knowing any better, that's the parents responsibility.

I think the bigger problem is games being ruined by the free-to-play model (see Tales of Phantasia), and hopefully with a solution like Google's, companies will be less financially inclined to go that route. Hopefully.

Edited by RuthLoose

This update couldn't come sooner. I have grown really tired of scrolling through the app description page with the goal of determining whether a free app contains in-app purchases or not.

More often than not, I just turn my phone off disgusted.

Posted by Corvak

I agree with these changes.

I am not against in-app purchases or microtransactions as a business model.

I am against developers that mislead me though, and I think the term 'free to play' is something we need to get rid of. Offer a free to try game with fair microtransactions that aren't trying to trick me, and I am perfectly fine paying for something I like. Paying to remove ads or to unlock more content is fine by me, but don't try to convince me a game is free when it isn't.

Edited by Mr_Creeper

@mr_creeper said:

Clarification is usually a good thing, but I'd have to agree with Apple; if this is based mostly on kids buying shit without knowing any better, that's the parents responsibility.

I think the bigger problem is games being ruined by the free-to-play model (see Tales of Phantasia), and hopefully with a solution like Google's, companies will be less financially inclined to go that route. Hopefully.

Unfortunately, I just think there's too much money generated from in-app transactions to deter the abusive companies too much.

Posted by Hailinel

Now if only something in general could be done about the apps that are designed purely as money sinks rather than actual games. (Looking at you, Dungeon Keeper Mobile.)

Edited by FajitaBoss

@brendan said:

Step in the right direction, I like it!

yep!

Posted by DevourerOfTime

I know it's not an actually good way to make money in practice, but I wonder if this will include games that have a "tip jar" attached to a free game as they are, technically, an in-app purchase. I always enjoyed the sentiment of the practice, even it wasn't exactly practical.

Edited by acp

@hailinel said:

Now if only something in general could be done about the apps that are designed purely as money sinks rather than actual games. (Looking at you, Dungeon Keeper Mobile.)

I think we can attack the problem two ways

1. refuse to play (much less pay for) any "game" that uses psychologically abusive mechanics (energy systems, gatcha/blind box pay drops, click and wait or pay, etc) or deceptive marketing

2. recommending good games that aren't offensive to our more casual gaming acquaintances

Posted by Okrag

Clarification is usually a good thing, but I'd have to agree with Apple; if this is based mostly on kids buying shit without knowing any better, that's the parents responsibility.

A lot of parents might not expect their kids to be able to spend money on a "free" game.

Posted by dr_mantas

EU has some great regulations originating there. Also some pretty bad ones, but they at least try being consumer and generally people oriented.

Edited by AngriGhandi

I wonder what Google's new name for these games will be. If it's a good name, hopefully we can foist it upon Apple as well!

I mean, I've long believed that all free-to-play games need to tell you how much money you've spent on them somewhere on the title screen. Giving people more clear information is never a bad thing.

Posted by mrcraggle

@okrag said:

@mr_creeper said:

Clarification is usually a good thing, but I'd have to agree with Apple; if this is based mostly on kids buying shit without knowing any better, that's the parents responsibility.

A lot of parents might not expect their kids to be able to spend money on a "free" game.

Then it's up to the parent to find out about the game first.

Posted by cikame

There are a ton of parents out there completely unable to figure this stuff out, next gen parents will be better equipped to deal with it but it'll always happen as long as there are password shortcuts.

I just like this change because it affects the extremely seedy "free" games market, i'm sure they'll find a new consumer friendly term for their games however.

Posted by Megasheep

I wonder what Google's new name for these games will be. If it's a good name, hopefully we can foist it upon Apple as well!

I mean, I've long believed that all free-to-play games need to tell you how much money you've spent on them somewhere on the title screen. Giving people more clear information is never a bad thing.

Maybe they could go back to use of the word "Demo" or "Demo Version".

Posted by BigD145

Other parts of the world will not do this. The EU busts its ass to get businesses to stop reaming/tricking consumers and the rest of the world drags its feet for decades even though those businesses stay profitable in Europe. Google and Apple will not change regionally unless forced to by law.

Posted by Mr_Creeper

@okrag said:

@mr_creeper said:

Clarification is usually a good thing, but I'd have to agree with Apple; if this is based mostly on kids buying shit without knowing any better, that's the parents responsibility.

A lot of parents might not expect their kids to be able to spend money on a "free" game.

Then it's up to the parent to find out about the game first.

That' how I see it. I've no desire in having children, but if I did, I'd damn well want to know what they were doing with a device that had my credit card information saved on it.

Posted by Bicycle_Repairman

I feel like this title is strangely misleading and inaccurate @patrickklepek . First of all, its not 100% true. Because its not Google but only on android devices in Europe. And secondly this is not Google making a stand. This is Google being forced to adapt to regulation. I wont call it a click-bait but it is an misleading and inaccurate headline for this story.

Not saying there is ill intend. But its not good.

Posted by AuthenticM

Europe continues to be smarter and more mature than the rest of the world.

Posted by huser

@mrcraggle said:

@okrag said:

@mr_creeper said:

Clarification is usually a good thing, but I'd have to agree with Apple; if this is based mostly on kids buying shit without knowing any better, that's the parents responsibility.

A lot of parents might not expect their kids to be able to spend money on a "free" game.

Then it's up to the parent to find out about the game first.

That' how I see it. I've no desire in having children, but if I did, I'd damn well want to know what they were doing with a device that had my credit card information saved on it.

Why can't it be both? Yes let's have people be more personally responsible. Let's also clean up the bullshit. Anything that makes the worst excesses of the Free to Play model less viable seems like a good thing.

Posted by wibby

Brilliant... Good Guy Google "Don't be evil"

Posted by Rotnac

I completely agree with Apple's stance on the matter. It should be the parents' responsibility not the government when it comes to protecting children with in-app purchases and such.

Posted by Christoffer

That would be shitty, if I cared.

Posted by ripelivejam

The way people respond to free to play games somewhat irks me. Most of the time they say they're perfectly fine playing the game if it doesn't have microtransactions, so they're basically asking for a free game and for the developer to not have a means to earn money on said game. People generally have hangups on the basic foundation, and at the same time expect something for nothing with no strings attached. I think with games categorized with this model you shouldn't expect something different. If you don't like the model they choose then don't play the game; it's just the way they're going to be.

Posted by Deusoma

Hey, this is a sight for sore eyes, I'm glad to see something is being done to try and reign in the Dungeon Sieges and Candy Crush Sagas of the mobile gaming world. :-)

Edited by joshwent

@patrickklepek It's clear from your write-up that you're totally in favor of this and are hopeful to see similar action in the US, but I'd like to present another side of the issue.

We can agree that many F2P games exist solely to squeeze as much money out of players as possible, usually without them completely realizing what they're spending. It's a scourge on the industry at large, killing creativity for the sake of maliciously manipulating people out of their time and money. I am not at all on their "side".

But given that, I'd still argue that government intervention is destructive and dangerous to a creative medium, no matter how minor the regulation might be.

The thrust of the EU policy is largely based on a "won't someone think of the children" fear, that the youth need to be protected from these kind of transactions. But recall that in 1994, the federal government used the exact same (then clearly misguided) tactic to attempt and control videogame content. Luckily that lead to the industry self-regulating via the ESRB, but I'm sure you're well aware that video games at large are still often the victim of ridicule and blame by those with the power and will to censor them.

When we agree that it's good for companies to be forced, on threat of legal action from the government, to change the category of a type of game, it sets up a very slippery precedent. Certainly, there is a very specific and clear way to identify a game which is free to download but then withholds gameplay behind a pay-wall. But when we give the government the power to enforce decisions based on that, especially in the context of doing so "to protect children", how much easier will it be for them to go just a bit further and demand that some content of games be categorized differently as well.

That worries me especially in this time of wonderful growth in the world of games and the increasing ease of development. We've seen a beautiful surge of minority voices being heard, creating games featuring non-hetero characters and same sex relationships. You did a great piece in the aftermath of the Tomodachi Life debacle, outlining various ratings board's policies and specifically how they don't distinguish between different creeds of character behavior.The indisputable fact however, is that our own government does.

A man and a woman kissing happens at the end of most wholesome family friendly Disney animated movies. A man and a man kissing is conversely, tragically by many, still considered to be "adult content". Is it so crazy to think that my endless jumper, which features two lesbian characters who are not currently a couple but discuss their past relationship often throughout the game, will be immune from any kind of "categorization"?

We welcome these kind of government enforced changes when their taking down the clear "bad guys" like F2P mobile developers, but there's no way of ensuring that the force only acts in the ways you want it to. To many american citizens and politicians, a game made for kids featuring gay characters is as, if not far more distasteful to them, as a game like farmville is to you.

If the ESRB changed their tune and said my game with the lesbian main character isn't suitable for kids, I have the option, to say, "thanks for the input, but fuck you." and release it anyway. If that charge came from the government, I have no option at all.

Anyway, thanks for reading all that (if you did), I really didn't mean to write that much. But I hope I argued my point sufficiently. When we invite regulation of an art form from a body which is unimpeachable, a body who makes their own rules, and has the power to impose legal action when its "suggestions" aren't obeyed, we all must be very, very careful how much power we grant to them, and how much freedom we're therefore willingly giving up.

Posted by Lurkero

Does that mean the Android store will have free, paid, and itemized games now? I doubt Google will allow them to be called "free to play"

Posted by Naoiko

Sweet!

Posted by spraynardtatum

It's amazing that this actually isn't the case already. Hooray though!

Online
Edited by Craig_Duda

I'd like to see a rule that forces them to disclose how much, on average, is spent on the game by people who download it. People will REALLY think twice about downloading these apps if they saw much they actually cost in the long run.

"I wonder what Google's new name for these games will be."

My suggestion: "Midway games" to remind people that they're rigged to steal their money.

Posted by jimmyfenix

Based EU

Posted by SomeJerk

This came from F2P games that aren't actually F2P, Dungeon Keeper being the "highest" example, and games that do their best to flat out trick you into pressing a click-to-pay button being another.

Actual F2P that you really can do start to finish only taking a little bit longer - Dungeon Keeper was mentioned as being well beyond anything anybody could find acceptable - are all fine, and will continue being able to call themselves that.

Let's thank EA.

For the first time in many years they did something that was good.

Posted by Levius

For all of its faults, the EU has to be one of the most consumer friendly organisations in the world. Good on them.

Posted by VictorDeLeon

didn't see it coming ...

Edited by Mr_Creeper
@huser said:

@mr_creeper said:
@mrcraggle said:

@okrag said:

@mr_creeper said:

Clarification is usually a good thing, but I'd have to agree with Apple; if this is based mostly on kids buying shit without knowing any better, that's the parents responsibility.

A lot of parents might not expect their kids to be able to spend money on a "free" game.

Then it's up to the parent to find out about the game first.

That' how I see it. I've no desire in having children, but if I did, I'd damn well want to know what they were doing with a device that had my credit card information saved on it.

Why can't it be both? Yes let's have people be more personally responsible. Let's also clean up the bullshit. Anything that makes the worst excesses of the Free to Play model less viable seems like a good thing.

For sure. I've no problem with this move - and hope it does make its way to the states - I just feel like more emphasis should be placed on proper parenting and taking responsibility for yourself and those you care for, in general. The amount of bullshit I see on a day-to-day basis is astounding.

Posted by acp

Personally I would like to be able to sort games by whether or not they have "click and wait realtime" mechanic. And never see or hear anything about games that do in any way shape or form.

Posted by Video_Game_King
Edited by Fuwano

I agree with this change. If you can pay for it, it isn't free (excluding donations).

Edited by drockus

@joshwent: I think you're missing the point. This isn't about government being intrusive, telling people what to do, "regulating art", or dictating the course of the video game industry. It's about government requiring an industry to correctly label their product; no different than a food company being required to list the ingredients and nutritional information on the side of food packaging.

Edited by Luck702

As some dude said once, nothing is free.

Posted by Devil240Z

This update couldn't come sooner. I have grown really tired of scrolling through the app description page with the goal of determining whether a free app contains in-app purchases or not.

More often than not, I just turn my phone off disgusted.

Android apps have a note right at the top of the store page that says "in app purchases" if that app contains them.

But yeah this is really needed for apps. I think F2P games are expected to have stuff you can buy in them but on a cell phone it should be clarified if an app is truly free. Actually if anything I think apps should state if they have ads in them or not. I could suddenly care less about IAP. I want to know up front if an app has ads in it.

Edited by mlarrabee

I love it.

EDIT: By the way, Google, could you add app store sorting options while you're at it?

Edited by SupberUber

@mrcraggle said:

@okrag said:

@mr_creeper said:

Clarification is usually a good thing, but I'd have to agree with Apple; if this is based mostly on kids buying shit without knowing any better, that's the parents responsibility.

A lot of parents might not expect their kids to be able to spend money on a "free" game.

Then it's up to the parent to find out about the game first.

Often my go-to, as well. But let’s not get into such territory in which we throw the parents on the fire because they wish for clarity. Clarity for something as trade 101 as price for a product.

Come on, now.

Posted by mrcraggle

@mrcraggle said:

@okrag said:

@mr_creeper said:

Clarification is usually a good thing, but I'd have to agree with Apple; if this is based mostly on kids buying shit without knowing any better, that's the parents responsibility.

A lot of parents might not expect their kids to be able to spend money on a "free" game.

Then it's up to the parent to find out about the game first.

Often my go-to, as well. But let’s not get into such territory in which we throw the parents on the fire because they wish for clarity. Clarity for something as trade 101 as price for a product.

Come on, now.

I'm 100% against this stuff (especially anything from King) but if your kid some how ends up spending $1000 on IAP, you done fucked up as a parent. First of all, your child should know to ask and second - wtf are you doing not protecting your credit card purchases with a code? And thirdly, your child is a dumbass if they think spending $1000 is ok. There have been too many cases here in the UK where a kid has spent hundreds - thousands of pounds on IAPs but the parents will shift blame to the dev for putting them there or Apple for not providing better protection for their cards or the bank for allowing the transaction to go through.

Posted by overlycritical

I don't know how I feel about this article. These days it is all too easy to blame 'the man' when we fall for silly marketing schemes or over hyped rabble.

Yes, free-to-play and in-app-purchase models are lame, costly, and they prey on our obsessive nature and instant gratification-minded ways, but at the end of the day we all are accountable for our choices. You choose to download that 'free' game, and you choose to spend money on its little trappings. You can't blame a business that is designed to make money for making money. You can disapprove of their intentions, but ultimately they have no way of prying that money out of your bank account.

No one, and I can say this with absolute assurance, has ever forced you to download a free game and then pay for the various conveniences it offers. Heck, most of you know full well what the pay structure will be for most of these types of games, and most of you willingly fork money over while publicly deriding the very system you fund.

I've downloaded and played a number of these types of games and I knew full well what I was getting into. I knowingly downloaded an app labeled as "free" with the visible fine print stating 'offers in app purchases', and I knew what I was getting into.

In regards to children who may not realize the ramifications of their actions I say it is up to the parents to be a part of their child's life, or at least place the proper restrictions on their children's devices so they cannot accidentally or purposefully spend money on free games. It is not Apple's responsibility to monitor children.

These days it is very easy to trash talk the micro transaction model, yet so many gamers still utilize it. In the end, there is always a choice.

Edited by SupberUber

@mrcraggle said:

@supberuber said:

@mrcraggle said:

@okrag said:

@mr_creeper said:

Clarification is usually a good thing, but I'd have to agree with Apple; if this is based mostly on kids buying shit without knowing any better, that's the parents responsibility.

A lot of parents might not expect their kids to be able to spend money on a "free" game.

Then it's up to the parent to find out about the game first.

Often my go-to, as well. But let’s not get into such territory in which we throw the parents on the fire because they wish for clarity. Clarity for something as trade 101 as price for a product.

Come on, now.

I'm 100% against this stuff (especially anything from King) but if your kid some how ends up spending $1000 on IAP, you done fucked up as a parent. First of all, your child should know to ask and second - wtf are you doing not protecting your credit card purchases with a code? And thirdly, your child is a dumbass if they think spending $1000 is ok. There have been too many cases here in the UK where a kid has spent hundreds - thousands of pounds on IAPs but the parents will shift blame to the dev for putting them there or Apple for not providing better protection for their cards or the bank for allowing the transaction to go through.

I’m not saying everything leading up to this situation is right, but that the end goal - clarity on pricing for a product - should be granted if enough users wish for it.

I haven’t read enough about this particular thing, but I assume that the commission aren’t "GTA-thinkaboutthechildren"-ing the entire thing. I suspect that they’re fed up with the whole situation as a whole; snake oil-salesmen going the whole nine yards in a new market where written rules are struggling to keep up.

Stupid parents are just the first in line, blindly stumbling in this minefield, exposing what the commission now - again, I assume - deems as a shady practice.

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