A listing for the “Rebel Racing” game seen on the Google Play Store in May 2023. Text underneath the title of the game stated “In-app purchases”.
The listing featured text and images depicting gameplay, accompanied by an “About this game” button, which, when clicked, linked through to a pop-up box with further information. Text stated “In-app purchases £0.89-£89.99 per item” at the bottom of the box.
The complainant, an academic researcher in game regulation, who understood that the game contained random item purchasing (“loot boxes”), challenged whether the ad was misleading because it omitted material information.
Hutch Games Ltd confirmed that the “Rebel Racing” game was free to download and contained in-app purchases, which included random item purchasing (“loot boxes”). They explained that there were different items, with varying probability, that could be acquired in the loot boxes.
There were several ways that loot boxes could be obtained in the game. Players could purchase them with money or the in-game currency called “Keys”, which could be purchased or earned through gameplay. They highlighted that loot boxes could also be obtained for free through gameplay, and that, on rare occasions they gave them to players for free. They stated that players could progress through the game, regardless of whether or not they decided to spend money. As such, they did not believe that material information had been omitted from the ad which prevented consumers making an informed decision on whether to download the game.
Hutch Games referenced CAP Guidance on advertising in-game purchases which stated that if virtual currency could be earned in the game, regardless of whether it could also be purchased, the in-game storefront and any inducement to purchase items would not be considered advertising for the purposes of the CAP Code. Because Keys, the in-game currency, could be earned as well as purchased, they believed that the CAP Code did not apply to the ad.
After receiving notification of the complaint, Hutch Games understood that they had misinterpreted the CAP Guidance. Consequently, they planned to update the product listing on the Google Play Store.
The ASA understood that the items received in a loot box were based on chance, and that a player would not know what items they had received in the box until the transaction was completed. CAP Guidance stated that the presence of loot boxes was material to consumers’ decision to purchase or download a game, particularly to those with specific vulnerabilities. As such, marketers should ensure that advertising for the game made clear that it contained in-game purchasing and, if relevant, that it included random-item purchasing. Mention of random-item purchasing should be immediately next to (or part of) information about in-game purchasing more generally.
Loot boxes were available to purchase within the “Rebel Racing” game. We noted Hutch Games’ argument that the ad could not be considered advertising for the purpose of the CAP Code because their in-game currency could be earned as well as purchased. However, we understood that distinction only applied to in-game storefronts and inducements to purchase items within a game. We further understood that product listings on app stores were within the scope of the CAP Code, regardless of whether any virtual currency could be earned in the game.
The product listing for “Rebel Racing” highlighted to players that the game offered in-game purchases, which could be purchased with money. However, we noted that no further information was given on the nature of those in-app purchases or whether it was possible to purchase loot boxes in the game. We therefore considered the information included in the ad was not sufficient for consumers to understand that the in-game purchases included loot boxes.
Because the ad did not make clear that the game contained loot boxes, which we considered was material to consumers’ decisions to download the game, we concluded that the ad misleadingly omitted material information.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading Advertising).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Hutch Games Ltd to make clear whether games contained random item purchasing (loot boxes).