There will be little downtime for app developers in the United Kingdom during the next few months. Developers must soon comply with a new set of rules for free-to-play, or freemium games. The rules, announced by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), begin April 1.

The 23 page “OFT’s Principles for online and app-based games,” states that game developers must alert users of any potential costs upfront. They must also explain whether personal data is used for marketing purposes.

The principals address the following:

  • a lack of transparent, accurate and clear up-front information relating, for example, to costs, and other information material to a consumer’s decision about whether to play, download or sign up to a game
  • misleading commercial practices, including failing to differentiate clearly between commercial messages and gameplay
  • exploiting children’s inexperience, vulnerability and credulity, including by aggressive commercial practices
  • including direct exhortations to children to buy advertised products or persuade their parents or other adults to buy advertised products for them
  • payments taken from account holders without their knowledge, express authorisation or informed consent.

Freemium apps have been under the microscope often in recent months, both in Europe and in the United States. At issue has been the unauthorized use of in-app purchasing in games and apps.

Last June, Apple settled a class action lawsuit over this issue in the U.S. Earlier this month, the company signed a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over the same issue.

I respect OFT for trying to clarify the rules on freemium apps. I’m also a strong believer in personal responsibility, however. I wonder whether these rules put too much pressure on the developers, and not enough on the people buying the games.

What do you think?