The UK's independent regulator of advertising, Advertising Standards Authority, has upheld a complaint against Electronic Arts and its marketing for its latest mobile, free-to-play version of Dungeon Keeper.
The adjudication related to a direct e-mail campaign that emphasised the fact that the game was free to download. The complainant in the case this email was misleading as it failed to make clear that not making in-app purchasing left gameplay "severely limited" thanks to its use of timer mechanics that forced players to wait to complete simple tasks.
"The nature of the timer frequency and length in Dungeon Keeper, in combination with the way it was monetised, was likely to create a game experience for non-spenders that did not reflect their reasonable expectations from the content of the ad. Because 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, we concluded that it was misleading," said the ASA in its findings.
EA had tried to argue against the original complaint, suggesting gamers would expect to find monetisation and mechanics in the game, and that gamers could progress for free.
"Electronic Arts also stated that the timers and premium currency did not only function as a monetisation strategy, but balanced gameplay and provided players with a sense of progression and enabled resource management. They said that even if there was no monetisation in the game a timing mechanism would still be present."
These points were acknowledged but ultimately dismissed by the ASA, which decided the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1, 3.3 and 3.9 (Misleading Advertising).
"The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Electronic Arts Ltd to ensure that future ads made clear the limitations of free gameplay and role of in-app purchasing with regard to speeding up gameplay."
On Twitter Vlambeer's Rami Ismail called the verdict "interesting" while Fireproof co-founder Barry Meade said of the result "seriously, our industry needs to rethink what we're doing to gaming."