A website for a new online video game, www.simcity.com/en_GB, provided an outline of the game's features.
On the 'What is SimCity?' section of the website, text stated "SimCity is a live service that simulates real time updates from new challenges to new features and content". Under the heading 'True Multi-City Scale' it stated "The more you invest in a specific industry, the more influence a city has over your region". Under the heading 'Multiplayer' it stated "... Specialize in industries that create pollution and then watch as the Sims in your neighbours' cities become sick. You can also choose to collaborate or compete with friends to build great works or earn achievements by topping the leaderboards".
On the 'Control Multiple Cities' page, under the heading 'SimCity World' it stated "View your achievements and access global leaderboards from the City log hub. Buy and sell resources on the global market with true supply and demand simulated prices influenced by everyone playing. Complete in global challenges and earn exclusive achievements and content unlocks!" Under the heading 'Great Works' it stated "You can plan a fusion reactor".
On the page titled 'Specialise Your City' text stated, 'Influence the Region', it stated "These decisions will have effects on the global prices of resources. Be wary of the mass pollution that can spread to neighbouring cities! Check the leaderboards to see your status as an industrialist, and make a name for your city in your region and the world".
In the 'Media' section of the website, on a page for the 'SimCity Digital Deluxe Trailer', it stated "Recreate a European inspired neighbourhood in the centre of your city! Place world renowned landmarks including the Eiffel Tower, Brandenburg Gate or Big Ben to help your tourism business in your city. Receive challenging missions, complete unique achievements and earn big bucks as waves of Sims visit the landmarks. Watch as the businesses, homes and vehicles around your landmarks start to take on the flavour, style, and architecture of those countries."
Three complainants challenged whether the website was misleading because a number of the advertised features were either not included in the game or had been disabled due to problems at launch.
The complainants stated that a number of advertised features were not available from the time of the game's launch, including: global leaderboards; global markets; global challenges; fusion reactors; real time updates and challenges; the 'pollution' feature; and the 'European landmarks' feature.
We put these specific challenges to Electronic Arts Ltd (EA). EA said that at the time of their response the Global Leaderboards were live across all servers. This feature was activated on a small number of servers as of 12 April, 35 days following the game's launch, to ensure that it was working correctly; it was functioning across all servers by 23 May. They said that the Global Markets feature was also live across all servers: this feature was enabled in May, with additional functionality added in June. At the time of their response the Global Challenges feature was not yet live, but they assured us that it would be launching soon.
EA accepted that the reference to the "Fusion Reactor" functionality was erroneous and they confirmed that this feature was not included in the final game. That reference has since been removed.
The complainants objected to the claim, "SimCity is a live service that simulates real time updates from new challenges to new features and content" on the basis that they understood no new challenges have been added and that updates to region play were not in real time. EA stated that since launch there had been bi-weekly updates containing a mix of new features, new content and bug fixes. They added that regions were updated in real time, but this was done 'asynchronously', so it was possible that a particular user might not see a change for some minutes, until the game 'refreshed'.
In relation to the pollution map, EA said pollution had been working since launch. All cities within the game started with no pollution, which then increased as industry was added. As part of normal game balancing and post-launch updates, improvements have been made to the way that pollution was mapped and calculated in the game.
EA asserted that the 'European landmarks' functionality had been working since day one of launch.
Upheld in part
The ASA noted that the global leaderboards and global markets features were not available at the time of the game's launch, though they were enabled shortly afterwards across all servers. We noted that the global challenges feature was yet to be enabled.
We understood that SimCity was a live service and that updates, including regional updates, happened in real time. We noted that the pollution feature had been working since launch and that through post-launch updates it had been improved through normal game balancing, which was inherent to the development of online game services. We also noted that the European Landmarks functionality had been live since launch but that fusion reactors were not included in the final game.
We acknowledged that for games of this nature, especially large online multiplayer games, it was not uncommon for there to be problems or delays with specific features at launch, nor was it uncommon for some services to require post-launch updates before they worked correctly.
Nevertheless, we considered that EA should have taken timely action to alert consumers to delays to any of the game's features by noting this information in marketing material that referenced the affected features. We also considered that EA should have removed the claim that the game would feature fusion reactors as soon as it was known that that was not to be included in the final product. Because these steps were not taken, we concluded that the website breached the Code in relation to the 'global leaderboards', 'global markets', 'global challenges' and 'fusion reactor' features only.
The website breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation).
The website must be amended. We told EA to ensure that marketing material was updated as soon as it was known that advertised features would either no longer appear in the final game or would be significantly delayed.