The EGDF response on the common position of the CPC Network on online games

For European Games Developer Federation (EGDF), presenting about 600 game developer studios from nine different EU member states, the three key aspects of any consumer protection measures are the following: a sufficient level of consumer protection, securing functional digital single market area, successful dissemination, clarity and a global focus. In addition, EGDF expresses its commitment on securing the fair trade practices in European digital single market area and is open for any further discussion with both the Member States and the European Commission on the issue.

General comments:

  • Joint consumer protection practices are one of the key aspects of the well functioning digital single market area

The European digital single market area is fully operational only if both the rules and the way they are implemented are the same in all member states. Therefore EGDF welcomes the efforts of the CPC Network to find a joint European approach on consumer protection in game markets. It is crucial that the same bodies that implement the rules on national level are also fully engaged on setting the positions on the European level.

However, EGDF is deeply worried that the if national competent authorities are not basing their rules clearly on the guidelines already introduced by the British Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the digital single market area will start to fragment, as it easily leads to a situation where developers, in the end, have 28 different national guidelines to implement. The first steps of this development can already be seen on the relationship between OFT guidelines and the position agreed by the CPC Network that are not completely in line with each other. Consequently, EGDF strongly recommends that new national guidelines are first discussed in the CPC Network and are not published before a joint European approach on all details is found. This is the only way to avoid serious fragmentation of European digital single market area. Now that the OFT have produced comprehensive guidelines for games businesses to comply with, it would make sense for these guidelines to be adopted throughout the EU.

  • It is not enough to set up the guidelines, they also have to be disseminated as well

Ultimately, game developers are the ones who make the final decisions on how payment mechanisms are integrated into a game. Consequently, they are also the ones, who will implement any guidelines or regulation in this field.  As physical distances are almost meaningless in digital markets, a game developer operating in one member state practically has to follow the guidelines from all the member states.

Unfortunately, as clearly demonstrated by the OFT guidelines, the poor dissemination of the guidelines on the European level can easily lead to a situation where a game developer designing a game either relies on false information from third hand sources, on obsolete information or is not informed at all. Therefore, in addition to introducing common positions, the CPC Network should also secure that national competent authorities are fully aware of existing national guidelines and take efficient dissemination efforts to reach the European game developer community.

Naturally, EGDF offers it help to the Member States and the Commission in securing all European guidelines are widely disseminated in the European developer community. However, this requires that both the CPC Network and the Commission area ready to provide sufficient information and invite EGDF to participate in the further meetings and discussions about the topic.

  • The guidelines have to be clear for all

The European mobile games industry has been extremely successful because of the low barriers of entry into the market. If there will be 28 constantly changing and partly conflicting guidelines for 28 member states, it will be much harder for European start-ups to enter into the markets. As SME’s do not have sufficient resources to follow the changes in guidelines in each Member states, therefore consumer protection guidelines, if poorly implemented, can easily become a major market entry barrier unnecessarily hindering the growth and job creation in Europe. Consequently, member states have to be able to agree on clear joint positions and implement them in the exactly same way in each member state.

  • The Commission needs to push European best practices on global level

Digital markets are global, not limited only in the European digital single market area. Consequently, the Commission should push European bests practices on consumer protection also on global level. 

Specific comments related to the common position agreed by CPC

  • Guidelines should respect technological neutrality 

The technological development in the game industry is rapid, which means that also the means of communication change quickly. During recent years, a fan community around a specific game has become a vital part of the game development process and its marketing activities. Therefore, for game developers it is highly important that the communication with their fans is as easy as possible. Effectively, this means that the developer has to use the communication means their gamers prefer to use. In some cases, this can be email, in other cases, it can be Twitter, for example. Consequently, the CPC network should avoid naming the specific means of communication like e-mail in their positions. Therefore EGDF prefers the position of OFT stating  “The trader should be capable of being contacted rapidly and communicated with in a direct and effective manner”, instead of the approach agreed by CPC stating “Consumers should be clearly provided with the trader’s e-mail address”.

  • Games that are likely to appeal to children have to be clearly defined 

The current position of the CPC network is rather vague on what are the games that are likely to appear to children. The challenge for game developers is that as a business model is nowadays, in many cases, deeply integrated in game mechanics, it crucial that they know from the outset what kind of messages and in what kinds of contexts they can use. Therefore, it would be highly helpful, if the CPC network helped the developers to adjust their games correctly by adopting the definition of games that are likely to appeal to children set by OFT rules

  • Guidelines for advertising should not affect on other communication

Especially in non-English speaking Member States  ”Free-to-play” is starting to become a term for a game genre build around micro transactions and in-app purchases, not just as a marketing slogan. Consequently, consumer protection authorities should be extremely careful while building up strict guidelines on how the term ”free” can be used in marketing the game so that they are not actually making it more difficult for game developers to communicate with their consumers. Consequently, EGDF underlines that the position of CPC should be only connected with the use word ”free” in advertisement, as it is already clearly indicated in the position of the CPC network.