What is the problem?
Advertising in the virtual world has real consequences. CAP and BCAP codes apply to e-commerce and in-game advertising. This means that in-game purchase incentives and item purchase mechanics are considered marketing communications under the Codes, even when they appear in an app or game, provided they occur. relate to transactional decisions involving real money (and including where they are made with virtual currency purchased for real money).
Additionally, advertisements for loot boxes and random item purchases are particularly sensitive due to their proximity to gaming activities.
What is the development?
CAP and BCAP have published advice on in-game ad purchases to help publishers understand how their codes relate to their in-game and storefront communications.
CAP and BCAP require that marketing communications do not mislead consumers by omitting or obscuring important information. So what does this mean in the context of in-game purchases?
Price of in-game purchases
- The cost of virtual currency should be clear, especially when bundled and sold in such a way that the cost varies depending on the size of the package.
- Comparisons between bundles should not be misleading, so the basis for the comparison should be clear – for example, specifying that a ‘best value’ claim relates to the unit price rather than the unit price. overall price, and that a claim that this is the cheapest price must relate to the overall price of the package rather than the unit cost.
- It must be clear to consumers what the actual equivalent price is for each item. Communications that separate the currency purchase from the items are unlikely to be acceptable as they would require the consumer to cross-reference.
- When in-game currency is sold in lots of different price per unit, it may not be possible to provide an exact equivalent real price, but the consumer must have a clear methodology – for example, the average price – unit value or a list of lots. If a price is indicative, this must be clear to the consumer and he must be informed of how the calculation was carried out.
- Clarity should also be provided in-game, on storefronts and outdoors, on odd prices (where the currency bundle increments do not match the currency price increments for some items).
- Package savings requests should generally be representative of the savings made by players and not, for example, be inflated by calculating them on the basis of the most expensive unit price.
- Advertisers to children should not make direct urges to buy or ask a parent / guardian to buy.
Overview of in-game purchases
CAP and BCAP are concerned that in-game advertising could potentially harm vulnerable people. This is due to the nature of the immersive gameplay, especially when messaging is in-game and under pressure. Another area of risk is purchasing random items like lootboxes, as they have similar characteristics to the game.
- Marketers should ensure that the advertisement for a game clearly indicates that it contains in-game purchases and, if applicable, random item purchases. The prominence of the message will depend on various factors, but even when it doesn’t need to be prominent, it should be easily accessible. The mention of purchasing random items should be immediately next to or part of the in-game purchase information.
- Marketers are encouraged (but not required) to provide further information about the type of in-game purchase the game involves, such as whether it is purely cosmetic or significantly improves the game.
- Ads showing the game should not give the impression that features that can only be unlocked through in-game purchases are part of the base game or are available for free, or readily and immediately available through an ordinary game.
- Gameplay displayed in advertisements should be generally representative of the game itself or clearly identify non-game footage as such.
What does this mean to you?
It would have been interesting to see how CAP and BCAP treat cryptocurrencies, as the guide does not define what that means by ‘real world’ currency. The guidelines also do not cover online secondary markets used to explicitly trade in-game currencies and features.
The overall message for game publishers and marketers, however, is simple: Be clear, frank, and transparent about the game, and don’t pressure or mislead people to make in-game purchases.