More free-to-play titles will fall foul of ASA, predicts Lovell

More free-to-play games will be criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority for trying to ‘exhort’ money from children.

That’s what Nicholas Lovell, director of Gamesbrief and leading consultant on freemium games, predicts. Last week, the ASA ruled against 55Pixels’ Bin Weevils and Mind Candy’s Moshi Monsters for trying to persuade young children to spend money. Both developers have already changed the wording in their games to comply with the ruling.

But the ASA’s rules pose further questions, says Lovell, and it will take time for the industry to full understand what is and isn’t allowed.

The most interesting thing to me is that ‘internal’ ads now appear to be under the same restrictions as external ads,” he said. The ASA has long been responsible for making sure that an advertisement followed its rules which included things like not being misleading or, in the case of ads aimed at children, not exhorting them to make a purchase, or to pester their parents to do so.

This ruling makes it clear than an offer to subscribe to a premium service, within the game, is just as much an ad as an external banner, which may have escaped people’s notice. It means that all games with in-app purchases or upgrade paths are now media businesses, subject to the ASA rules.

I suspect there will be more referrals as we, as an industry, get to grips with the ASA code. Two other things to note: both companies referred were British. I wonder how this would fare if the company involved was American, or Chinese, or Russian”

And both of these games were aimed at children. They fell foul of the ‘exhortation’ rule. So it may not affect games aimed at grown-ups so much. Which leads to a question: is a game like Hay Day, with its cartoony graphics, aimed at children or at adults?”

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