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What are some possible legal issues with allowing minors to play in a text-based browser game.

The issues I know of are laws against tracking minors (logging IPs at sign in) and laws against providing pornography (players uploading their own avatars).

I'm making a text-based browser MMO. Players can message each other and see each others' avatars. I'll be logging IPs of players.

I see some MMOs ban minors from playing, per TOS. I don't want to do that. And I don't want a TOS provision I don't plan on enforcing.

I'm in the US. I'll take any advice or useful links you guys got.

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My idea so far, for my TOS, is anyone under 13 needs parental consent, and i barely want to let them mingle with adults so i might be harsh and require credit card info from their guardian. for 13-17 I'll make player agree that, "they will follow parental guidance and policy for online activity." I.e. they can't play my game if their parents don't let them play this kind of game. "You agree your parents let you talk to strange adults online." haha. and if under 18 they must tell they're guardian if they are harrassed in my game. OK, it sounds silly, but TOSes ARE silly. –  Dor1000 May 7 '12 at 3:47
    
I was also thinking, require parental consent after playing for a month. Because who will ask their parents for consent right at registration. If my TOS is unreasonable, it only teaches people to ignore silly boiler plate contracts. Contacts are very important. So I saw one TOS of a kids MMO, and it (TOS) was simple enough that it was easy reading. after scrolling through it you got to the registration form at the bottom. That was a well done site. –  Dor1000 May 7 '12 at 3:51
    
My game is war themed, for adults (but simple enough for young teens). There's no reason i should let little kids mingle in that E-space. but kid's of my adult players should be allowed to play, if i know their parent consents. –  Dor1000 May 7 '12 at 3:55

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Requiring credit card input would bar a lot of young players who don't want to bother their parents with this sort of thing or even adult players who don't want to give out their CC info to play a game, so a less restrictive alternative is to have a good moderation system in place and making an effort to keep minors safe (having an easily accessible system to report abuses and responding promptly to them).

This paired with a solid (and actively enforced) Terms of Service would demonstrate enough good faith on the part of the site operators to protect you from liability in most cases. You can also look at the most popular major gaming networks (PSN, Xbox Live, etc.) and follow them.

The other alternative, of course, is to simply limit inter-player interaction. If there are no text/voice chat capabilities, and no unvetted custom avatars, then all you really need to worry about are inappropriate usernames.

Since you do want to charge for your service anyway, then you could employ a two-tiered system:

  • During sign-up & credit card entry, parents can specify that they want the account to be restricted to:
    • only gameplay interaction, and no chat/messaging with other players
    • or, do as Nintendo did, and limit inter-player social interactions to real-life-based social networks. I.e. in order to chat/message with another player, they need to be added to your buddy list by entering a player identification code that you've previously exchanged at school, by phone, email, etc. This way, kids are only interacting with players that they know in real life and already communicate with.
    • only being able to participate in games/chat lobbies watched over by a live moderator
    • only seeing user-uploaded content that has been viewed & approved by staff
  • Otherwise, the player can play and communicate with any other online player and have immediate access to user-uploaded content that hasn't been vetted by staff yet.

In a freemium model, you can also let users play without entering a CC in the child-safe play mode.

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The problem you'd run into with an MMO is that of which you couldn't predict. Your games may be rated on the content that is included by you(the developer), but it doesn't necessarily mean that's the only content they will be exposed to. Hence why most games have "Gaming experience may vary during online play".

That being said, there are ways where you could save yourself, from legal issues, in doing this. Perhaps putting up a parental agreements and making them place credit card information into your system (both for a subscription and to prove that they're getting consent from someone who is over the age of 18).

It could be argued though, I mean look at daytime television broadcasting, it's to the point to where I wouldn't want my kids watching it at an early age.

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If you don't want to be that restrictive (requiring credit card input would bar a lot of young players who don't want to bother their parents with this sort of thing or even adult players who don't want to give out their CC info to play a game), having a good moderation system in place and making an effort to keep minors safe (having an easily accessible system to report abuses and responding promptly to them) to demonstrate good faith would be enough to protect you from liability in most cases. You can also look at the most popular major gaming networks (PSN, Xbox Live, etc.) and follow them. –  Lèse majesté May 6 '12 at 3:38
    
The majority of browser games are subscription based. Including mine. Possibly a dev could require CC info for donations and for when a player wants to go deeper into the game, and this could discourage minors who don't have parental consent. Discourage meaning they would stop enjoying the game at some point and leave, if no CC. Requiring CC also has the benefits of slowing down multi accounts. –  Dor1000 May 7 '12 at 3:35
    
@Lèse majesté good comment. If it was an answer I would accept it. I started looking at MMOs for teen girls, and examining their TOSs. Lots of good info. The one I saw only allowed 14+ to play. and 15-17 required parental consent. I just googled.. horse mmo .. I clearly need to look at these kinds of MMO TOSs. –  Dor1000 May 7 '12 at 3:40

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