Don’t be deceptive: How can gaming companies avoid making misleading adverts?

Around 70% of complaints made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) each year relate to misleading advertising, with an increasing amount being made about gaming adverts.

Digital marketing plays a major role in the business strategy of gaming companies, with huge amounts of investment being made to increase their market reach and persuade gamers to buy their product.

With such a saturated market, it is becoming increasingly important for digital marketing campaigns to target the relevant audience with creative campaigns that standout and excite consumers.

However, companies must remember that this cannot be at the expense of compliance with the appropriate regulations.

How do you make an advert that complies with ASA's rules?

The golden rule is that adverts should not be misleading. This means gaming adverts should reflect the product and be representative of the relevant gameplay.

In addition, they should not give false impressions of the quality, features and/or graphics of the game.

Looking at some recent ASA complaints, we've identified some common themes:

If in-play footage is shown, it should be footage from the game in question.

In November 2022, a complaint was upheld against Rivergame over TikTok adverts which exaggerated the performance of its Top War game. The adverts depicted locations, gameplay and graphics which were not actually in the game.

It is unlikely that cinematic representations of the themes of the game will be acceptable.

In April 2022, a complaint was upheld against AppQuantum Publishing for displaying a cartoon goblin in a free-roam area when the actual game took place in a static location. Despite the developer arguing this was a cinematic representation of the game’s themes, the ASA held it was a significant discrepancy likely to mislead viewers.

A qualification or small print such as “not representative of actual gameplay” is unlikely to prevent an advert from misleading viewers.

In September 2020, a complaint was upheld against PLR Worldwide Sales because the advert included a disclaimer which said that some of the gameplay featured would be experienced by the player. However, the ASA found that players had to get through a lot of other undepicted gameplay to reach the point shown in the advert and that it only represented a very small portion of the overall gameplay.

Be mindful of the use of in-app purchases, time-limited offers and random item purchasing.

Further guidance can be found on the ASA’s website.

ASA General Checklist

The ASA has put together a checklist of points to help ensure an advert is not misleading:

  • Don't omit material information.
  • Hold evidence for all objective claims – advertisers must be able to support the claim as it is likely to be understood by the average consumer.
  • Present qualifications clearly – although it's worth noting that this will not always prevent an advert from being misleading.
  • Don't exaggerate the capability or performance of a product.
  • Make sure price claims are accurate – include all non-optional charges
  • Make any limitations on availability clear.

Other regulated aspects of gaming advertisements

There is also ASA guidance relating to the inclusion of specific content in gaming adverts:

  • Violence should not be excessive or graphic.  
  • Adverts should not glamorise or condone the use of violence/weapons.
  • Adverts should avoid weapons pointing directly or aggressively at the viewer.
  • Objectification and sexual violence are unlikely to be acceptable, even if these feature heavily in the game itself.
  • If elements are unsuitable for children, the relevant adverts must be targeted appropriately.
  • Material on age restricted websites is more likely to be deemed acceptable.
  • Where an advert is considered unsuitable for children, the ASA will consider the program the advert is being shown during, as well as the time when making an assessment.

ASA enforcement

If adverts do not comply with ASA guidance, the amendment or removal of the advert can be required.

It may also impose other sanctions such as pre-vetting future advertisements or removal of paid advertisements from search engines.

While the ASA does not have the power to impose fines, it does have the power to refer repeat offenders to the Competition and Markets Authority who have wider enforcement powers, including fines.

Our thoughts

It is important for gaming companies to comply with the above guidance not only to avoid sanctions, but also to ensure relationships with consumers are not damaged. Misleading adverts can damage both the reputation of the offending company, as well as trust in the industry as a whole.

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