An online game entitled Moshi Monsters, accessed via www.moshimonsters.com. As part of gameplay, players could take part in free activities involving caring for a virtual creature, including decorating its habitat. The 'soft' in-game currency 'Rox' could be obtained by playing mini-games, such as a daily quiz, which could then be spent on items.
Although it was possible to play the game without spending real money or sharing the game, certain activities required participation in a paid-membership system, which entitled members to additional benefits. A tab on the game screen headed "Membership" led to a page giving information about the option. Text stated "Join Now for Exclusive Member Benefits" with a button to access the joining page, and further text stated "The basic version of Moshi Monsters is free (sign-up here) but Members get exclusive access to all sorts of cool extras". These extras, such as "Super Moshi" missions, extra habitats, access to additional game areas and avatar customisation were described below, and at the bottom of the page was another button to access the joining page, through which a membership plan could be purchased.
One free "Super Moshi Mission" in-game activity was available to non-members. At the end of this mission a message stating "MEMBERS GET MORE MISSIONS AND Unique Moshlings! Epics With Prizes Cool New Games! JOIN NOW!" was displayed to players. During other activities, such as trying to access member-only areas, a message such as "ATTENTION: YOU NEED TO BE A MOSHI MEMBER TO ENTER THIS AREA ABOUT MEMBERSHIPS!" with a brief description of some member benefits would be displayed. These messages provided a link to the Membership page and could be dismissed by clicking an 'X' in the top right-hand corner.
The Competition and Markets Authority, who believed that the game was targeted at children and contained a direct exhortation to buy a membership package, challenged whether the ad breached the Code.
Mind Candy Ltd t/a Moshi Monsters stated that they were willing to make suitable amendments to their advertising, and noted that upon receipt of the complaint they had altered the ads in question. These changes included removing the 'Now' direction and re-wording information about Super Moshi Missions.
The ASA welcomed Mind Candy’s willingness to amend their advertising in light of the concerns raised. We considered that the game would have particular appeal to, and was targeted at, young children. We understood that large sections of the game were available to play for free and that membership was not required in order to undertake several in-game activities. We noted that paid membership brought benefits that either enhanced already present game features (such as additional rooms or colours for the player's avatar) or provided new features in the form of Super Moshi missions. We understood that when trying to access an area or action that was member-only, a message would be displayed explaining this to the player and stating either "ABOUT MEMBERSHIPS" or "JOIN NOW," and providing a means to close the message with an 'x' button in the corner. We considered that, in conjunction with the membership benefits described in the message box, the "JOIN NOW" statement was phrased as a command instructing the player to immediately subscribe to the membership scheme and that it was significantly more prominent that the option to close the message, the 'x' being much smaller than the invitation and out of the way of the main text. We also noted that no statement explaining that players could return to gameplay without membership was given. With regard to the "ABOUT MEMBERSHIPS" message box, we considered that this statement was phrased as an invitation to find out more about the subscription, rather than as an explicit command to purchase, and that the message as a whole therefore did not contain any direct exhortation to purchase
With regard to the membership page that players were directed to through the message boxes, we noted that the most prominent actions on the page were "JOIN" and "Join Now for Exclusive Member Benefits," which we considered were phrased as commands to purchase a subscription. While we acknowledged that the "Join" statements in this context linked visitors to the page on which the subscriptions could be purchased and could therefore be understood as an explanation of how to purchase, we considered that imperative phrasing was not necessary to explain how to buy a subscription and that it therefore went further than a straightforward description of the link. Moreover, the descriptions of the benefits contained phrases such as "The Super Moshis need YOU" and "Members are going to be super popular", and we considered that these put pressure on young players to purchase the subscription that would allow them to take part in this aspect of the game. In light of these elements, we concluded that the game, including the membership page, presented children with direct exhortations to purchase membership subscriptions.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
(Social responsibility) and 5.4,
must not include a direct exhortation to children to buy an advertised product or persuade their parents or other adults to buy an advertised product for them.
Marketing communications that contain a direct exhortation to buy a product via a direct-response mechanism must not be directly targeted at children. Direct-response mechanisms are those that allow consumers to place orders without face-to-face contact with the marketer.
(Direct exhortation and parental authority).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told Mind Candy Ltd to ensure that future ads did not state "JOIN NOW" or contain other direct exhortations to purchase membership subscriptions.