Despite EA et al claiming that free-to-play is both highly popular and in high demand, the model is being investigated by the Office of Fair Trading for applying “unfair pressure to purchase when they are playing games they thought were free.”

We have criticized the free-to-play model, especially on mobile devices, for their inherent design traits: namely, idea that they are “gambling with a 0% chance for the house [developer] to lose.”

“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,” claimed the OFT.

The model is being investigated on suspicion of being “misleading, commercially aggressive or otherwise unfair.”

It’s not only adults who’re at risk, with children running up thousands of dollars in credit card bills through buying in game currencies – either without realizing it, or because these charming currencies are disguised as ‘doughnuts’ or ‘gems.’

Analysis

It’s about time, too. Most of these free-to-play games are manipulative, aggressive, and inherently anti-consumer friendly. They aim to trivialise micro-payments, and offer you easy, quick rewards when compared to the alternative: spending much more time than you should on a village creation game. It’s gambling where pixels are the reward, and the house can’t lose.

In our ‘Five ways [for EA] to improve’ article, one of our suggestions was to step back and take a long hard look at how free-to-play social games are affecting consumers.