Free to Play and the European Commission

“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”

Free With IAP SmallAs you may or may not know, the European Commission are meeting with mobile providers to discuss “free to play”. There’s a really nice write-up about it by Jas Purewal here, so go and read that for a lot more background detail than I’m going to repeat.

Free With IAP Single Page

Regarding the adverting of games as free, this is mostly down to Apple’s labelling. Some simple global text changes in the app store could solve this (as shown on the right).

They’d also need to change the “free app” chart to either only display apps with no IAP, or change the wording of that too.

Spotify - free? Of course, as Jas points out, the press release begins by talking about “apps” and then quickly moves on to “games”, which seems rather clear of the direction they intend to take this. There are many other products and apps in the world that use the “get it for free, but pay for more if you want to” model, I suspect they’ll be left un-touched. Spotify for example, specifically words its copy to position itself as a free service, despite the fact that I pay £9.99 a month for it. Apple’s own free iBooks app is another simple example of a non-game which “contains the possibility of making in-app purchases”.

My take on this? I absolutely agree with the concerns around the wording in apps aimed at children, and think evocative copy and calls to action should be restricted, as many other forms of advertising aimed at children are (Apple has recently made moves to address this by making a “kid friendly” section of the app store that has tighter restrictions on debs before their apps will be accepted).

However I absolutely disagree with the idea that apps that have optional payments shouldn’t be advertised as “free”. I’ve played a lot of free to play games, and I’ve spent money on maybe a dozen at most. The rest of them I’ve played … for free.