In what could be a landmark ruling, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) in the UK has ruled that an email ad for Dungeon Keeper, which stated that the game was free, was misleading to consumers.
The ad read as such:
GET DUNGEON KEEPER ON MOBILE FOR FREE! ... DIG. DEVISE. DOMINATE. Build the most badass dungeon ever! Raise an army of diabolical minions and lay twisted traps to destroy any opponents foolish enough to set foot in your lair. MASTER THE HAND OF EVIL Cast powerful spells, pillage and plunder other players’ dungeons, and slap your imps around to make them work harder. A world of wicked fun is right at your fingertips. What are you waiting for, Keeper? Get it for FREE!
The ad also featured a footnote stating "WIRELESS FEES MAY APPLY" and showed a well-developed dungeon. The complainant challenged that the ad was misleading as it omitted significant information.
EA argued that this was not the case, as the app does not require in-app purchases (IAPs) to be bought and that gameplay without IAPs is 'not severely limited.' EA also provided data on 'spenders' and 'non-spenders,' which they said showed that non-spenders were well represented in players who reached the middle and end of the game, in a time not substantially slower than spenders.
EA went on to state that the "average player would expect a free-to-play title to be monetized with countdown timers and premium currency," that they gave "balanced gameplay and provided players with a sense of progression and enabled resource management," and that timers would be still be present in Dungeon Keeper even without any monetization.
In response to this, the ASA assessed that EA had indeed branched three rules of the Advertising Code. Within the ruling, they commented that the ad could possibly mislead players into thinking that their progression would be "unhindered by unexpected and excessively onerous delays," and that it should "have made clear what consumers could expect from the free elements and that in-app purchases would have a significant impact on gameplay." Finally, they stated that "the game had the potential to restrict gameplay beyond that which would be expected by consumers and the ad did not make this aspect of the role of in-app purchasing clear."
As the ASA upheld the complaint, the ad cannot appear again in its current form. EA has also been warned by the ASA to ensure that the limitations of free gameplay and the role of IAPs are made clear in future ads.