Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Hutch Games Ltd
Where: United Kingdom
When: 4 October 2023
Law stated as at: 4 October 2023
Two games, “Rebel Racing” and “F1 Clash – Car Racing Manager”, were listed on the mobile app stores. Both games offered random item purchasing (loot boxes). Loot boxes contained random items; users acquired or purchased loot boxes and did not know what they would receive until they opened the loot box.
The Committee of Advertising Practice’s (CAP) Guidance on advertising in-game purchases is clear that, if a game contains in-game purchasing, then advertising for the game should make clear that the game contains such in-game purchasing. Further, if the in-game purchasing includes random item purchasing (loot boxes), then this should be mentioned immediately next to, or part of, the information about in-game purchasing more generally.
The listings for the games in question did not do this. Instead, they included clickable links which provided further information which included “some in-game items can also be purchased for real money” and “In-app purchases £0.89-£89.99 per item“. Neither it was mentioned that the game contained random item purchasing.
Hutch Games Ltd initially argued that the listings were not subject to the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code) (and therefore the associated guidance) because users could purchase loot boxes with real money or the in-game currency. The in-game currency could be purchased or earned through gameplay.
Hutch Games Ltd’s argument stemmed from an exemption in the guidance that some game areas are considered editorial content, rather than advertising, and are therefore not within the scope of the CAP Code. However, the exemption only applies to certain instances of in-game storefronts and inducements to purchase. The complaints in question referred to listings on the mobile app stores. The listings were therefore clearly in scope and, as a result, required that the inclusion of random item purchases was made clear. The listings therefore breached the CAP Code.
Why this matters:
The exemption in the CAP Guidance on advertising in-game purchases is narrow; it only applies to some in-game store fronts and other in-game inducements where virtual currency can be earned in-game as well as purchased. Even then, each consideration of the regulator’s remit will be conducted on a case-by-case basis. If in doubt, disclose it!