ASA Ruling on Children’s Games

August 25, 2015

The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled against two online games because they directly pressured children to make purchases (in this instance for membership subscriptions) – something that’s prohibited by the Advertising Code.  The rulings follow a referral of the advertisers to the ASA by the Competition and Markets Authority.

The rulings against 55 Pixels Ltd t/a Bin Weevils and Mind Candy Ltd t/a Moshi Monsters show that, although it was possible to play the games without spending real money or sharing the game, certain activities required participation in a paid-membership system, which entitled members to additional benefits. Both games contained language and prominent calls to action that put pressure on young players to purchase a subscription to take part in additional game play. The ASA considered that text, including ‘Become a Member’, ‘JOIN NOW’, directly exhorted children to purchase membership subscriptions as well as in-game ‘currency’.

The ASA say that they are working with the online games sector to remind them of the care it needs to take when providing in-game purchase mechanisms particularly if their products are likely to appeal to children.  They state that the will be ‘monitoring the situation to ensure advertisers are sticking to the rules’ and will be ‘encouraging advertisers to read the AdviceOnline entry on “Children: Direct Exhortation” and to seek Copy Advice for free & confidential advice on how to stick to the rules’.

Laurence Eastham writes:

55 Pixels Ltd and Mind Candy must be devastated by yet another set of harsh rulings from the ASA. There they are innocently encouraging young children to spend somebody else’s money, with perfectly justifiable phrases such as “The Super Moshis need YOU” and “Members are going to be super popular”. Apparently some busybodies from the Competition and Markets Authority think that’s wrong. And, as a result, the ASA looks at the case and makes them NOT DO IT AGAIN. My heart weeps for the poor game developers.

In a sane world, with a regulator doing a proper job, I suppose the developers might have expected some sanction that cost them money. At the very least one might expect a donation to a children’s charity – perhaps I have missed it. It is worth saying again that our laws on children and contracts need an overhaul for the digital age. This level of regulation and sanction is just a waste of time.