The act of misleading consumers to make an extra buck is not a new practice. While the methods change, the intention ultimately remains the same. One of the most prevalent instances of this in the current gaming landscape is the use of the term “free-to-play.” More and more companies are turning to this sales method after seeing the profit it can attain. Despite the fact that there are many occasions in which the product in question is truly free with no strings attached, sadly the occasions of games using the term as a hook to draw in easy sources of income are much more common.
While many markets turn a blind eye to this practice, there are some that have taken note of its manipulative nature. A prime example of this is the European Commission. Acting as the executive governmental force within the EU, they can very well enact change if they want to. Following complaints “all over Europe,” they plan to hold a meeting to discuss their grievances.
According to CVG, representatives from the European Commission will be meeting on Thursday and Friday with members of the gaming industry. They plan to look over these complaints and determine whether the current use of the term “free-to-play” is too manipulative or not. If the EC has their way, the term could soon take on a more literal meaning in the EU.
Viviane Reding, the justice commissioner in the EU states that:
“Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model and also goes against the spirit of EU rules on consumer protection… The European Commission will expect very concrete answers from the app industry to the concerns raised by citizens and national consumer organisations.”
One of the points that the European Commission intends to highlight is that, despite the industry’s current success, without a solid sense of trust between consumers and the developers behind the games they play, the possible growth will be stifled. Not only this, but it is a practice that presents a very real threat when implemented into games that will be in the hands of children. Conditioned to expect the word “free” to mean just that, the financial exploitation that can occur is something that needs to be curbed.
As such, the EC’s goal is to ensure that only games that truly provide an experience with no strings attached will be able to hold the moniker “free-to-play.”
“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.”
Whether this goal is achievable or not, it is still an admirable one. Across iOS and Android, there are too many misleading “free-to-play” titles to count. While games like Dota 2 manage to strike a healthy balance between gameplay and non-intrusive purchases, far too many games set out to manipulate consumers. The European Commission is onto something that would certainly be welcome in other markets but if it is met with resistance, the chances of this issue being resolved across the pond could be just as unlikely.
Luckily for gamers though, there are still games that seemingly set out to provide a full experience even for those who don’t intend to spend a cent. Harmonix’s recently-announced Chroma is one such game. If games like this are any indication, there is still hope.
Do you think the term “free-to-play” has taken on a different meaning? Would a greater degree of truth encourage gamers to support microtransaction-funded games rather than avoid them?
Follow Ryan on Twitter @ThatRyanB.