UK authorities issue a new guidance to ensure advertisers don’t mislead consumers

Whether we like it or not, microtransactions in games are becoming the norm. Most free-to-play games use them as part of their monetization system, but paid single-player and multiplayer games are also adopting them. Although you can choose to ignore them, some games present them in a not-so ethical form while also obscuring some details.

To solve the issues brought by microtransactions, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) issued new guidance explaining how developers and publishers should present and advertise premium content and currencies for their games. This new guidance refers to advertising made in-game, through a store/platform, and via TV and websites.

The ASA created the guidance to prevent consumers from being misled when buying items through a game or platform by clearly displaying all the information needed to make a considered purchase. Moreover, the ASA also asks advertisers to remove tags like “Best Offer!” and “Most Value!”, timed promotions, and anything else that motivates customers to make a purchase.

The ASA’s guidance differentiates games that only allow you to get premium in-game currency by exchanging real-world money from games that let you earn it while playing. Any games that fit the former description should display the real-world value of the premium currency and items. If you already have some of the premium currency needed to buy an item, the game should also display how much it will cost you to purchase it in premium currency and real-world money.

Pop-ins and notifications inducing purchases should be kept to a minimum, according to the new guidelines. However, this area falls out of the ASA’s jurisdiction, meaning developers and publishers might just ignore it.

The guidance issued by the ASA also mentions gambling and loot boxes, despite the authority “not [being] entitled to make a determination about whether random-item purchasing constitutes gambling or should be treated as such.” This responsibility falls in the UK’s Gambling Commission jurisdiction.

As a self-regulatory authority in the UK’s advertising industry, the ASA can’t fine companies nor enforce any legislation, but that doesn’t mean their work isn’t important. In the past, the ASA actions led companies like Apple, TripAdvisor, Nestlé, and L’Oréal to change their advertising campaigns. If a company ignores the ASA’s warnings, the case can be redirected to UK regulators, possibly resulting in severe consequences.