ASA Adjudication on SymWorks Ltd
SymWorks Ltd t/a
1 Great Western Court
Ashburton Industrial Estate
15 April 2009
Internet (sales promotion)
Number of complaints:
An online competition, for Shinyshack.com, stated “Play Shinyballs for your chance to win a £500 spending spree!” The competition involved playing a game for points and the entrant who obtained the highest score would win a £500 voucher to spend on the advertisers’ website.
The complainant, who had entered the competition, noted a message appeared on the day the winner should have been announced, telling users that some people had been manipulating their scores and therefore no one would win the competition and the money would be donated to charity. He challenged whether the competition had been administered fairly, because he believed the competition either should have been withdrawn sooner or the money given to the person with the highest genuine score.
CAP Code (Edition 11)
Shinyshack sent a copy of the terms and conditions of the promotion. They said during the course of the competition they had started to notice some very high scores, which looked suspicious, and had launched an investigation. However, they had been unable to prove conclusively that those scores were fraudulent, so they carried on running the game. They said towards the end (on the day before the closing date and the closing date itself) they had found that four players were obviously cheating; one high score would be entered, then a higher score would be entered immediately after that.
They said server data on how the scores were being submitted proved, additionally, that the top ten scores were all fraudulent. They explained that the game used an encryption algorithm, which generated a key that was sent to the server along with the score. The key would be validated on the server and should prevent cheating. Shinyshack pointed out, however, that, by decompiling the Flash file that the game was presented as, it would be possible to calculate the encryption function and submit fake scores. They added that, although the top ten scores were clearly fraudulent because the user agent differed from normal, other high scores did not have different user agents, however they could still have been altered at will by someone with sufficient technical knowledge. They said, because of that, it was impossible to say with any confidence that any of the high scores were not fraudulent.
Shinyshack said they decided that the only sensible course of action would be to give the money to charity, and donated £600 worth of toys to a local children's charity. They closed the competition and posted a notice to that effect on the morning of the closing date. They said they had since received several e-mails from players that approved of their decision, and none that opposed it. They said, had they had a way of identifying a high score as 100% genuine, they would have chosen that score, but the level of cheating and the complexity of the analysis required to cheat meant that their employees who had developed the game and subsequently investigated the scores considered that that would be impossible. In addition, many people had given up playing because of the very high scores, and Shinyshack felt that would also have been unfair to those players. They maintained that they could never have predicted that someone would go to the lengths of decompiling the game in order to cheat.
The ASA noted the terms and conditions stated "The judge's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into" but did not mention the possibility of the prize being withheld. We also noted, although Shinyshack had suspected that some of the high scores were fraudulent, it had become clear only on the day before the closing date that cheating was definitely taking place. We noted they used an encryption key as a standard security measure and had not anticipated that players would go to the lengths of decompiling the file, which required some technical expertise. We also noted the difficulty they had experienced when trying to determine which of the high scores was genuine.
We noted Shinyshack had given toys to charity in excess of the value of the original prize, and had explained the reasoning behind their decision on the website on the day the competition closed. We also noted they had received positive feedback from some participants. We considered that, although players would, understandably, be disappointed that the prize was not awarded, the donation to charity would be seen by most as a reasonable use of the money in the circumstances. We also considered that, because they could not have predicted the manipulation of the high scores, the terms and conditions need not have reflected the possibility of prize withdrawal. We concluded that Shinyshack had acted appropriately in their administration of the competition.
We investigated the promotion under CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness), 27.4 (Sales promotion rules), 31.1 (Sales promotion rules - administration), 34.1(a) (Significant conditions for promotions) and 35.10 (Other rules for prize promotions) but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)