This month the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) released new guidance for advertisements used to promote in-game purchases. This guidance applies to providers of online gaming services that offer users the opportunity to purchase virtual items in real-time, such as virtual currencies or extra lives. CAP and BCAP hope that the guidance will prevent users, particularly young people and vulnerable individuals, from being misled about the true cost of any additional purchases.
The guidance expressly states that the real value of money must be clear to users at all times to avoid any confusion about the price of in-game purchases. For example, it is recommended that the price is displayed beside any virtual currency to ensure that users are aware of any discrepancies. To prevent users feeling pressured to purchase additional items, CAP and BCAP also discourage the use of "excessively short timers" which out pressure on the user to make a decision quickly. What is considered excessively short will depend on the context and nature of the specific online game.
Any pop-up adverts that encourage gambling behaviours should also be avoided. For example, phrases such as "try one more time" should not be used if a user is unsuccessful in claiming, or winning, a reward that has cost them real money. This is particularly important in relation to children and the guidance expressly states that if an advertisement is aimed at children, children should never be encouraged to make additional purchases.
Furthermore, advertisements used to promote online gaming services must make it clear that in-game purchases are available. This information does not need to be the focus of the advertisement but it should be easily accessible. For example, in-game purchases that cost money should not be advertised as free.
The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA)
The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) will handle any complaints informally for six months. After this time period expires, the ASA will deal with complaints in the normal way by reviewing the merits of the complaint and deciding on further action. Serious complaints can be formally investigated and could result in sanctions, such as referrals to Trading Standards or Ofcom. Providers of online gaming services should therefore update any advertisements that fail to comply with this guidance as soon as possible and, in any event, within six months to avoid the risk of a formal investigation.
Our trade and commerce team has a broad range of experience advising on compliance with the CAP and BCAP Codes. If you would like further advice on any matters raised in this bulletin, please get in touch with Alison Rochester, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Roddy Forgie, at email@example.com, of our trade and commerce team, or your usual Shepherd and Wedderburn contact.