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Videogames investigated for misleading children

OFT probe into "free" games that then charge for extra content.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is investigating whether video games that can be freely downloaded from Apple or Google-owned online stores have encouraged children to spend money for extra content.

The regulator, however, didn’t mentioned names of any specific companies, told parents to contact the office if they have any concerns.

In the recent times, an increasing number of parents have found that their children have racked up huge bills playing “freemium” games.

Justine Roberts, chief executive of parenting advice website Mumsnet, told the Financial Times: “It’s all too easy for children to get sucked into games and, before you know it, they’ve racked up huge costs buying coins, berries and doughnuts.”

Cavendish Elithorn, senior director at the OFT, said: “We are concerned that children and their parents could be subject to unfair pressure to purchase when they are playing games they thought were free, but which can actually run up substantial costs.”

Jack Kent, an analyst at IHS Screen Digest, told FT: “There’s no limit to how much a person could spend and some games can certainly be aggressive in encouraging people to keep on spending. Kent further said that consumers are expected to spend more than $8bn in 2013 on such purchases, an increase of about $3.2bn compared to 2011.

In March, Apple refunded £1,700 to the parents of a five-year-old boy in Bristol after their son spent the money playing an iPad game. In February, Apple agreed to settle a US class-action lawsuit filed by unsatisfied parents alleging the company for not providing appropriate controls.

Apple and Google argue that they provide a password for game-related purchases, which many parents share with their children without realising the consequences.