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Consumer protection in Hong Kong

Always read the small print, Consumer Council warns smartphone gamers

Council received more than 70 complaints and poor customer service or charges in internet or mobile phone games

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 September, 2016, 8:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 4:44pm

Playing video games over the internet or on smartphones can prove to be extremely expensive if users are unaware of costs or terms and conditions, the Consumer Council has warned.

The council received 72 complaints regarding internet or mobile phone games in the first eight months of this year, a slight decrease from 80 complaints recorded in the same period last year. However, the total amount of money involved in the same period jumped nearly three times - from HK$266,250 last year to HK$730,000 this year.

Most of the complaints were about poor customer service quality from game developers,while eight complaints were disputes over charges.

“Some players are very willing to spend on these virtual games,” chief executive of the council Gilly Wong Fung-han said.

The council handled a case where a woman’s 9-year-old son made a total of HK$13,500 in purchases while playing a game app downloaded for free on her mobile phone.

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The woman then realised she had given her credit card details upon registration of the app, but complained that once the button to purchase was pressed, a transaction will occur and no re-entering of password was required. The company rejected her claim that the lack of security on the app led to accidental purchases, and said transactions were bound by the applicable terms and conditions.

“When the consumer is willing to store their credit card information and password, they may have also agreed that in the future when she pressed a certain button, it meant she agreed to a certain payment,” chairman of the publicity and community relations committee at the council Michael Hui King-man said.

Another case among the eight highlighted by the council involved a complainant spending more than HK$8,000 to participate in a “lucky draw” of rare game characters in a football game app.

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The complainant said he had entered the draw more than 300 times, but had still not acquired a rare character. He filed a complaint to the council saying the app’s claim that the chances of getting a rare character would increase with more draws was untruthful.

After looking into the case, Hui believed the app developer had fulfilled its responsibility when it based the draw on a fixed rate, as there was no guarantee in success. The developer also claimed that it was stated in the terms and conditions that no refunds of purchased tokens would be made.

Both claimants failed to receive any compensation, despite the council’s assistance.

Hui advised players to be more aware when they were asked to provide credit card payment information in apps, and to check the terms and conditions carefully.

“Some consumers are really quite careless,” Hui said. “There is no free lunch in this world, no one will spend money creating a game that does not generate money.”

However, Hui said game developers should improve their customer service support as most only provide an email address for enquiries, leaving users in a difficult position when they need help.