By Erik Allison
While mobile games such as Candy Crush Saga and Clash of Clans cost nothing to download, these games frequently prompt players to use real money to purchase the games’ digital currency, in-game lives, or new levels of the game not available to free users. These free-to-play games with in-app purchases are also known as “freemium” games, because they provide a free game but charge money for premium content. The game developers behind free-to-play gaming have developed this concept around the idea that gamers do not want to risk an initial investment on a game that might not hold their interest, but are more willing to try a free game in which they may choose to invest more time and, possibly, money. Thus, game developers have created games that are initially appealing, allowing rewarding early play, but eventually become less and less rewarding. As the game becomes less rewarding, it persistently solicits the player to purchase items that enhance or speed up the gameplay to make it more rewarding. For example, when the player is out of resources, lives, or levels, the game might direct the user directly to the in-game store, which may be animated in the same way as the gameplay. The free-to-play game industry has found these methods extremely effective in eliciting purchases from adult players, but more concerning is their effect on the behaviors of children under the age of thirteen. While there is certainly some question about the ethics of these methods when used against adult players, the use of these methods in games marketed to children passes the line from unethical to illegal.
Erik Allison, The High Cost of Free-To-Play Games: Consumer protection in the New Digital Playground, 70 SMU L. Rev. 449 (2017)