The online games market is a fast-growing market, populated by a predominantly young target audience. These characteristics, together with the blurring lines between real and virtual money, a relative lack of payment obstacles, and the sharing of personal information, has led to the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) indicating it has identified several risks in this industry. ACM underlines the importance of education to parents and their children about the risks involved when playing online games. Parents can do more to prevent problems, but are often insufficiently aware of their options to do so. These are the most important conclusions of the analysis of the online games market ACM carried out.
The risks identified by ACM are created by the fact that children play online games, in which they sometimes need to pay or disclose personal information in order to be able to play the game. Anita Vegter, Member of the Board of ACM, comments: ‘Players of online games must be provided with information about the costs and conditions associated with playing the game in a timely manner. We wish to keep a close watch on the developments in this market because it is a fast-growing market combined with a vulnerable target audience. That is why we are calling on parents and their children to submit any complaints they might have to our consumer information portal ConsuWijzer.’
Roles of different market participants
ACM is the regulatory authority that can take action against companies that violate certain rules such as consumer protection rules. Through its oversight efforts, ACM ensures that consumers are able to make well-informed choices, and that firms compete fairly. ACM carried out a scan of the online games market, because it is a growth market populated by a considerable number of young consumers, and because ACM received indications about potential problems in this market. As part of this market scan, ACM sat down with various market participants in the online games market or associated therewith: suppliers, platforms, but also organizations that focus on parents and children. Based on the market scan, ACM has concluded that official actions are not necessary at this time because no abuses have been found. ACM has come to that conclusion after analyzing the abovementioned indications, as well as the actions and attitudes of individual companies and organizations that are active in this market.
However, ACM does identify several risks, because:
- Players of online games are predominantly children (or even young children) that play a lot and often;
- The lines between real and virtual money are blurring;
- The relative lack of obstacles to pay for extra options (in-game purchases);
- Users are asked to provide personal information without any clarity about what will happen with that information;
- Children and parents are often unaware of how to change the settings on their tablets and computers, for example, in order to block payment options.
ACM has shared its conclusions with relevant companies and organizations in order to prevent these risks from becoming real problems. In addition, ACM sat down with other regulators to see what role they can play in this context. The parties that have been involved in this process are able to play a critical role in reducing the potential risks by:
- Informing players correctly and in a timely manner about the most important conditions of the game;
- Increasing awareness among children about the differences between real euros and virtual money (credits);
- Reminding parents of their responsibility and of the options to change the settings on their devices.
Through its consumer information portal ConsuWijzer, ACM offers parents tips about what they can do themselves to reduce these risks. ConsuWijzer also gives an overview of information about online games that is available at other organizations. ACM will be keeping a close watch on this market by monitoring the indications received by ConsuWijzer. If abuses are found in the future, ACM will not hesitate to take action.
Online games market
ACM carried out a study into the online games market. Playing online games is an activity that has grown tremendously in recent years. In one year, the number of players that play games on mobile devices has risen from 3.2 to 4.4 million. Approximately 20% (900,000) of this group spend money on online games. In 2012, Dutch consumers spent EUR 139 million on online games. Children between 7 and 17 years play online games on average 2 to 3 hours a day. One in four of this age group even plays more than four hours a day.