The word "free" might as well be retired from app store pricing, given it almost never means what you think it means (to paraphrase Inigo Montoya). The European Union was also somewhat confused about the label and its use with mobile games that, if you plan to actually play them, money must be exchanged (*cough* Dungeon Keeper *cough*). The EU has now set out a number of guidelines the likes of Google and Apple must follow, though one has been more accommodating than the other.
According to a press release from the European Commission, the EU's Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) agreed on the following conditions, which it "communicated to Apple, Google and the Interactive Software Federation of Europe" in December of last year:
- Games advertised as "free" should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved;
- Games should not contain direct exhortation to children to buy items in a game or to persuade an adult to buy items for them;
- Consumers should be adequately informed about the payment arrangements for purchases and should not be debited through default settings without consumers’ explicit consent;
- Traders should provide an email address so that consumers can contact them in case of queries or complaints.
The release goes on to mention that Google will be implementing "a number of changes" come September 2014. The biggest of these is to no longer mark games with in-app purchases but no initial cost as "free". It's also working on protocols to "prevent direct exhortation of children" and making it so that every in-app purchase must be authorised by default.
Apple, on the other hand, hasn't provided the EU with much of anything:
Although, regrettably, no concrete and immediate solutions have been made by Apple to date to address the concerns linked in particular to payment authorisation, Apple has proposed to address those concerns. However, no firm commitment and no timing have been provided for the implementation of such possible future changes.
It's important to note that all these changes are being driven by the European Union and as such, might not apply to other regions such as Australia. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if Google just made it a flat policy across all stores.