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Hutch Games slapped for loot box disclosure violations

Mobile game maker argued unsuccessfully that disclosure was optional because loot boxes could be obtained through gameplay as well as purchasing

The UK's Advertising Standards Authority has upheld two claims against Hutch Games for violating loot box disclosure rules.

The regulator found that ads for F1 Clash: Car Racing Manager on the App Store and Rebel Racing on Google Play were misleading because they neglected to include mention of paid loot boxes in the game.

Hutch argued that because players could progress through the game without spending money, such disclosure was unnecessary. It pointed to guidance from the ASA's sister organization the Committee of Advertising Practices that said such an arrangement would put in-game storefronts outside the scope of advertising standards.

However, the ASA pointed to CAP guidance specifically saying product listings on App Stores do count because they are "material to consumers' decision to purchase or download a game, particularly to those with specific vulnerabilities."

The ASA's only action against Hutch was to say they must make clear when their games contain paid loot boxes.

The ads were brought to the ASA's attention by loot box researcher Leon Xiao, whose work has in the past highlighted mandatory loot box labels being inconsistently applied in markets around the world.

Xiao told he was happy with the outcome, but added that complaining to the ASA on a case-by-case basis is not a solution for a widespread problem.

"On both Google and Apple platforms, many games with loot boxes (thousands, if not tens of thousands) are operated by non-UK-based companies that the ASA cannot act directly against, so we cannot force those companies to comply," Xiao said.

"I will try to get other EU regulators to act, but there is little that can be done in relation to Israeli and Chinese companies in particular. Therefore, it is important that trade bodies like UKIE and TIGA and, in particular, platforms like Apple and Google do more to ensure that basic laws are followed.

Xiao noted that Apple does not allow for rating board labels to receive prominent display on the App Store, so games essentially need to include such disclosure at the top of the app's description box in order to comply with laws.

"This is not social corporate responsibility where a company is going above and beyond what is required by law," Xiao said. "This is literally the bare minimum legal requirement that many companies are failing to meet."

Update: After publication, a Hutch Games representative offered comment from the company, saying, "Following discussions with the ASA, we acknowledge that a mistake was made on our store page listing for our games Rebel Racing on the Google Play Store and F1 Clash on the Apple App Store. We have immediately corrected this mistake. We are ensuring that all future listings contain the correct information going forward."

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Brendan Sinclair avatar
Brendan Sinclair: Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot.
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