The freemium business model takes yet another blow, this time across the pond in the UK. The country’s self-policing ad standards body came out with a verdict that finds EA Games guilty of using misleading advertisements in trying to sell its now controversial Dungeon Keeper mobile game. Fortunately for EA, they might not have to pay any price.
Perhaps a lot of us are already used to the the term “free-to-play” most often than not accompanied by “in-app purchases”. In fact, that was the very same excuse that EA used to counter the complaint brought against it. However not all mobile users and potential new gamers know that and they end up paying the literal price for not knowing it. Whereas most of us will probably shrug it off and simply uninstall the game, swearing never to pick it up again, someone actually took up arms to tell the world of the dirty little games these companies play.
This was the case that a UK resident brought to the British Advertising Standards Agency or ASA. According to the complaint, EA Games sent out email ads about Dungeon Keeper, playing on and literally capitalizing the word FREE. The only indication that there might be some costs involved was about wireless fees when players connect and update the game. Little did they know that they might actually have to pay their way into the game as well. Of course, EA claims, as well as other game developers and publishers, that it is totally possible to finish the game without cashing out a single dollar, or pound in this case.
Technically, they are correct, most of the time. The thing is, many such games make it so difficult to play through the whole thing without ups an bonuses that it does seem impossible not to buy such perks. Other games outrightly limit you to level 2 or 3 of the game unless you cough up some dough. Regardless of the actual implementation detail, ASA’s focus was, of course, on the ad itself. While it acknowledged some of EA’s points, it upheld the complaint against it on the very simple and understandable reason that the game ad never indicated any sort of in-app purchase that would help players survive. EA merely assumed that everyone knows how the business works but, as one child queen said in that ill-fated film, it presumed too much.
Unfortunately, the entire case falls rather flat in the end. ASA recommends that EA’s future ads take this into consideration, and it will likely comply, just like how mobile app stores these days have indicators for apps with in-app purchases. However, that is really just the extent of the ASA’s action. It isn’t a government body and has no authority to impose sanctions and fines. So for someone as big as EA, the ASA’s guilty verdict is nothing but a very light tap, not even a slap, on the wrist.