What's the issue?
Advertising in the virtual world has real life consequences. The CAP and BCAP Codes apply to e-commerce and in-game adverts. This means that in-game inducements to purchase and the mechanics for procuring items are considered marketing communications under the Codes even when they appear within an app or game, provided they relate to transactional decisions involving real-word money (and including where they are made with virtual currency purchased for real-world money).
In addition, adverts for loot boxes and random-item purchasing are particularly sensitive because of their proximity to gambling-like activity.
What's the development?
CAP and BCAP have published guidance on advertising in-game purchases to help publishers understand how their Codes relate to their in-game and storefront communications.
CAP and BCAP require marketing communications do not mislead consumers by omitting or obscuring material information. So what does this mean in the context of in-game purchases?
Pricing of in-game purchases
- The cost of virtual currency must be clear, particularly where it is bundled and sold in such a way that the cost varies depending on the size of the bundle.
- Comparisons between bundles must not mislead so the basis of the comparison must be clear – for example, specifying that a 'best value' claim relates to the cost-per-unit price rather than the overall price, and that a claim to be the cheapest should relate to the overall bundle price rather than cost-per-unit.
- It must be clear to consumers what the equivalent real-world price is for each item. Communications which separate the purchase of currency from items are unlikely to be acceptable because they would require the consumer to cross-reference.
- Where in-game currency is sold in bundles of different price-per-unit value, it may not be possible to provide an exact equivalent real-world price, but the consumer must be provided with a clear methodology – for example, average price-per-unit value, or a list of bundles. If a price is indicative, that must be clear to the consumer and they must be given information about how the calculation was made.
- Clarity must also be provided in-game, on storefronts and externally, about odd-pricing (where increments of currency bundles do not match the increments of currency price for some items).
- Savings claims for bundles must be generally representative of the savings experienced by players and not, for example, be inflated by calculating them on the basis of the most expensive price-per-unit.
- Advertisers to children must not make direct exhortations to purchase or ask a parent/guardian to purchase.
Presentation of in-game purchases
CAP and BCAP are concerned that in-game advertising has the potential to cause harm to vulnerable individuals. This is because of the nature of immersive gameplay, particularly where messaging is within play and time-pressured. Another area of risk relates to random-item purchasing like lootboxes because they have gambling-like characteristics.
- Marketers should ensure that advertising for a game makes clear it contains in-game purchasing and, where relevant, random-item purchasing. The prominence of the messaging will depend on a variety of factors but even where it does not need to be prominent, it should be easily accessible. Mention of random-item purchasing should be immediately next to or part of the information about in-game purchases.
- Marketers are encouraged (but not required) to provide further information about the type of in-game purchasing that the game involves – for example whether it is purely cosmetic or significantly enhances game play.
- Adverts showing game play should not give the impression that features which can only be unlocked using in-game purchases, are part of the basic game or are available for free, or easily and immediately available through ordinary play.
- Gameplay shown in adverts must be generally representative of the game itself or clearly identify non-gameplay footage as such.
What does this mean for you?
It would have been interesting to see how CAP and BCAP treat cryptocurrencies as the guidance doesn't define what it means by 'real world' currency. The guidance also fails to cover the online secondary marketplaces used to trade in-game currencies and features explicitly.
The overall message for games publishers and marketers is, however, simple: be clear, upfront and transparent about the game, and don’t pressure or mislead people into making in-game purchases.