The U.K. ASA created new guidance for microtransactions, which specifies what kind of language should be used in ads to avoid misleading players.
As of Monday, September 20, the U.K. Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has expanded its guidelines around microtransactions to make advertisements for in-game purchases less ambiguous. The fight for lawmakers to control microtransactions and loot boxes has been raging in countries all over the globe for many years, now. Gradually, more and more laws have been amended or added in order to control microtransactions, one of the most recent occurrences being a potential loot box ban in Australia for anyone under 18 years of age.
In-game purchases are the lifeblood of countless free-to-play games in the world today, and they even appear in paid games. Games like Fortnite make billions of dollars through microtransactions, yet there are no expectation to purchase them from a gameplay perspective. In situations like this, microtransactions can be seen as harmless in many ways, especially when such purchases are purely cosmetic. The moral line is blurred, though, when it comes to so called “pay-to-win” games and mechanics. In the case of Fortnite, Epic Games consistently releases new outfits, such as the latest Tom Hardy-inspired Eddie Brock outfit, that can be purchased, but they don’t have any affect on a player’s in-game abilities. On the other side of the coin, EA found itself in hot water when Star Wars: Battlefront II was released with the ability to pay for Star Cards that increased the effectiveness of various weapons and abilities in-game.
While the new ASA regulations would consider this particular situation “Out of Scope,” they do further define what is acceptable in the U.K. in terms of advertising in-game purchases. Kotaku reports that items in games that are obtainable exclusively through real-world currency must contain things such as “how many gems or coins you currently have, how many you’ll need to get the item, and how much that will cost you.” Any buzzwords like “Best Value!” in relation to bundles also should adhere to stricter rules; anything referring to cost should relate to the final price of a bundle, and references to value should relate to the cost-per-unit of the bundle. This is in an effort to avoid misleading consumers, as virtual currency often doesn’t have a true conversion rate. There’s also potential for this to help when games like Pokémon Unite allow for greater progress through microtransactions, making it easy to get sucked into a hasty purchase in order to continue playing.
This new guidance doesn’t apply to all microtransactions equally. It’s worth noting that while these requirements don’t apply to virtual currency that can be earned in-game, it does extend to items that can be purchased with virtual currency when said currency is only available through a real-world purchase. An example of this situation would be purchasing chests or skins in League of Legends because these are paid for with Riot Points, which can only be acquired through a purchase. The ASA also makes notes that the new guidance is not meant to decide the morality of loot boxes or imply anything regarding their potential connection to gambling.
Laws and government regulations can have crucial effects on game publishers and developers, as seen when Tencent’s value dropped $60 billion due to Chinese gaming laws. Without necessarily altering Tencent’s business practices, China cost the holding company enormous sums by limiting the amount of time minors are permitted to play games per week. Since microtransactions are so essential to the earnings of some of the biggest game developers and publishers, it’s easy to see how laws related to them can have such drastic implications. Nonetheless, the battle for regulations on the practice continues, and it’s only a matter of time until more regulations are put in place around the world.
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