We’ve ruled against two online games because they directly pressured children to make purchases (in this instance for membership subscriptions) – something that’s prohibited by the Advertising Code. Our rulings follow a referral of the advertisers to us by the Competition and Markets Authority.

What is an in-game or in-app purchase? It’s not unusual for games or apps that can be downloaded onto our laptops, mobile phones or other electronic devices to include within them mechanisms for purchasing additional features to enhance game play or functionality. This is a standard practice but if these products are targeted at or likely to appeal to children then advertisers have to tread carefully.

Our rulings against 55 Pixels Ltd t/a Bin Weevils and Mind Candy Ltd t/a Moshi Monsters make clear where the advertisers went wrong. Although it was possible to play the games without spending real money or sharing the game, certain activities required participation in a paid-membership system, which entitled members to additional benefits.

Both games contained language and prominent calls to action that put pressure on young players to purchase a subscription to take part in additional game play. We considered that text, including "Become a Member", "JOIN NOW”, directly exhorted children to purchase membership subscriptions as well as in-game ‘currency’.

Following the rulings, we’re working with the online games sector to remind them of the care it needs to take when providing in-game purchase mechanisms particularly if their products are likely to appeal to children. We’ll be monitoring the situation to ensure advertisers are sticking to the rules. We’re also encouraging advertisers to read the AdviceOnline entry on “Children: Direct Exhortation” and to seek Copy Advice for free & confidential advice on how to stick to the rules.

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