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Developers have nothing to fear from OFT's gaming guidelines, says tech lawyer

Taylor Wessing's Graham Hann gives his expert view

Developers have nothing to fear from OFT's gaming guidelines, says tech lawyer
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The proposed guidelines published by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) on games with in-app purchases aimed at children will not have a major impact on the majority of mobile developers.

That's the take of Graham Hann, technology specialist and partner at international law firm Taylor Wessing.

Speaking on the OFT's move, Hann said that while consumer groups will welcome the publishing of the in-app purchase principles, in reality many of the guidelines simply reinforce existing laws or practices.

Nothing new here

"Many publishers and brand owners are likely to be taking steps around in-game purchases that are consistent with the guidelines for brand reasons – the negative press about children spending huge sums of money on in-game purchases is perhaps more of a concern to brand owners than the guidelines," details Hann.

"However this won't apply to all publishers, and bearing in mind the relatively few publishers that churn out serial hits, some are likely to remain more opportunistic. It's therefore important to note that the OFT guidelines are just that – guidelines."

Indeed, Hann claims it is important for developers to understand that the OFT's principles are "only designed to assist businesses by indicating behaviours that are more or less likely to comply with the relevant law."

"They do not introduce new laws and so will not change behaviour overnight," he adds.

Consumer law

"In many cases existing practices do not comply with existing laws anyway. For example, the guidelines state that it must be clear to consumers when they agree to make a payment what exactly it is they are agreeing to.

"If this were not the case then there would probably not be an enforceable contract and it's likely various consumer laws would have been contravened anyway."

Hann concludes by noting that there are other issues that may prevent OFT's guidelines impacting the industry – namely that "contracts with children cannot generally be enforced."

"Of course where a parent has effectively given permission to the child to use the device and password, it may be hard for them to argue out of the payment contract but this has not been tested by the courts, and it will be interesting to see if a case ever comes to court in the future," he concludes.

You read the response of UK trade associations UKIE and TIGA to the OFT's guidelines here.

Keith Andrew
Keith Andrew
With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font. He's also Pocket Gamer's resident football gaming expert and, thanks to his work on PG.biz, monitors the market share of all mobile OSes on a daily basis.