A promotion, administered on a social network, offered the first 100 entrants the opportunity to purchase a limited edition Playstation 4 games console (PS4), and five random entrants the opportunity to win the same console.
Six complainants, who understood that details of the winners had not been published, and that the promotion's terms and conditions had been breached in a number of ways, challenged whether it had been administered fairly.
Sony said a clue was published each day which described a specific character from PlayStation history. The clue also included a link to a 'character image' page, which contained over 300 different characters. Consumers were required to select the character being described in the clue. If the correct character was selected, consumers were linked to a page hosted by the retailer Game, with a submission form to buy a console. They said the link to the Game page was updated approximately one minute before a clue was released to allow them to check that the link worked before the clue was released.
Sony said it was originally intended that there would be 100 consoles to be available to purchase daily, but that 112 were actually made available for purchase each day. They said that the URL that led to the submission form was static, which meant that it could be shared, and that there had been no way to track whether a consumer had accessed the form through the character image page or via a shared link. They said system functionality was not in place to allow for unique URLs, and they had not foreseen the issue of the submission form URL being shared.
Sony said measures were put in place once it was discovered that people were using computer programs to have early access to the Game URL. Changes were made to ensure consumers couldn't access the site early, and a number of consumers were disqualified when it was discovered they had found a way to access the site before the clue had gone live. They said a number of measures were also put in place to prevent consumers from purchasing more than one console. Sony said Game had manually cross-referenced names and postal addresses, and carried out additional checks of IP addresses. They said, to their knowledge, purchases were made on a first-come, first-served basis.
Game also explained how the promotion had worked. They said a competition to win several consoles also ran simultaneously, which produced one winner per day. They acknowledged that the URL for the submission form was static, which meant, once it was identified by one customer, there was the potential for the URL to be shared. They said they raised that with Sony, and highlighted that a number of entries were using a link which had been posted to a forum for gamers.
Game said that all customers who accessed the submission form early were disqualified from the promotion, as per Game's terms and conditions. They said because Sony rather than Game hosted the character image page, they were not able to view traffic from that page. They were only able to view traffic that entered through their URL which hosted the submission form. Anyone that came through to the submission form before Sony had posted their clue was disqualified.
Game said that it had become apparent that five customers had been able to purchase two consoles during the promotion, albeit on different days. They said they had stringent processes in place to ensure customers could not purchase more than one console during each day's promotion, but that such processes had not been sufficient to withstand the unexpectedly high volume of entries, nor been designed in a way that enabled entries to be viewed across the entire promotion period.
Game said that, although some of the complainants were concerned that entries had been selected at random, that was not the case. They had time-stamped every entry received through the submission form and were therefore able to assess fairly when consumers had submitted those entries. That had meant they could ensure the first 100 eligible entrants would be able to purchase a console. They said that a parallel competition had run in which five entries were picked at random to win, rather than purchase, a console, and acknowledged that that might have caused confusion over how the entries had been selected in the purchase promotion.
They said they had not disqualified any eligible entries. They said entries had been disqualified, as per their terms and conditions, for being duplicate entries, with only the first entry being allowed. Consumers who made early entries or entered the promotion from outside the UK were also disqualified.
In response to some complainants questioning whether the details of the winners had been published, Game said the details of the five winners of the competition were published on the submission form entry page between thirty minutes and two hours after the four-hour entry period had closed. They provided screenshots of the details of the winners having been posted.
The ASA noted that the submissions had been time-stamped, and that the first 100 entries had been picked to purchase the console, but that the prize winners had been picked randomly. We were satisfied that basing the opportunity to purchase the console on the time-stamp of the entries was sufficient to ensure it was awarded on a first-come-first served basis, as stated in the promotion's terms and conditions.
We were satisfied that the five winners of the prize competition had been posted on Game's website. We were also satisfied that any disqualifications were in line with the competition's stated terms and conditions, and that eligible entries had not been disqualified.
However, we noted that, although processes had been put in place to try to prevent consumers from purchasing more than one console, at least five consumers had been able to do so, against the promotion's terms and conditions. We also understood that a link to the opportunity to purchase the console could be shared, which meant that neither Sony nor Game could tell whether consumers had accessed the link after having solved the clue, or having been sent the link. We considered that meant entrants who had attempted to enter by solving the clue were likely to have been disadvantaged and therefore unnecessarily disappointed.
Because, for the reasons given, the promotion had caused unnecessary disappointment, we concluded that it had not been administered fairly, and therefore that it had breached the Code.
The promotion breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 8.1 8.1 Promoters are responsible for all aspects and all stages of their promotions. and 8.2 8.2 Promoters must conduct their promotions equitably, promptly and efficiently and be seen to deal fairly and honourably with participants and potential participants. Promoters must avoid causing unnecessary disappointment. (Sales promotions), and 8.14 8.14 Promoters must ensure that their promotions are conducted under proper supervision and make adequate resources available to administer them. Promoters, agencies and intermediaries should not give consumers justifiable grounds for complaint. (Administration).
We also investigated the promotion under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 8.28.5 8.28.5 Promoters must either publish or make available on request the name and county of major prizewinners and, if applicable, their winning entries except in the limited circumstances where promoters are subject to a legal requirement never to publish such information. Promoters must obtain consent to such publicity from all competition entrants at the time of entry. Prizewinners must not be compromised by the publication of excessive personal information (Prize promotions), but did not find it in breach.
We told Sony Computer Entertainment UK Ltd and Game Retail Ltd to ensure that future promotions were administered fairly and avoided causing unnecessary disappointment to participants.