Dungeon Keeper on iOS can no longer be called ‘free-to-play’ in adverts, following a verdict from the Advertising Standards Authority. The body just banned an EA advert after finding that player progression is severely limited unless they pay for in-app purchases.
Essentially, the amount of time taken to do simple tasks, such as mining squares of the map is excruciating, and can only be sped up if the player pays money for boosters. The time mounts with each square mined, until excavating one part of the grid can take up to 24 hours. Gamers and critics have found this to be both intrusive, and blocking a core element of gameplay behind a paywall.
Now, the Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that Dungeon Keeper adverts can no longer mention the phrase ‘free to play.’
The firm stated in its verdict, “We regarded it as extremely likely that players would reach a position where they would be unable to take any further meaningful or progressive action in the game until a timer had finished or been skipped, and that these periods would become longer and more significant, and the cost of skipping increasingly higher, as the player progressed.
“From the information available in the ad, players would expect the gameplay progression and their ability to advance to be unhindered by unexpected and excessively onerous delays, and we therefore considered that the length and frequency of these countdown events was beyond that which would be reasonably expected by players.
“We consequently considered it likely that many players would regard the gameplay experience as unexpectedly curtailed and as a result would need to spend Gems in order to achieve the form of gameplay anticipated.
“While we understood that the average consumer would appreciate that free-to-play games were likely to contain monetisation functions, we considered that they would also expect the play experience of a game described as ‘free’ to not be excessively restricted.”
According to the ASA, Dungeon Keeper advertising specifical violated CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1, 3.3 and 3.9 – or ‘Misleading Advertising.’
The body also noted that EA’s adverts make no mention of in-app purchases, stating, “We noted that the ad did not include any reference to in-app purchases or the role they would play.
“Although we acknowledged that a disclaimer about the inclusion of in-app purchases was placed on the product page on the stores in which the app appeared, we noted that this was not within the body of, or linked to, the original ad, and that it did not make the nature of these purchases clear.”
EA contested the ASA’s claims however, and argued that gameplay was not severely limited for those unwilling to buy in-app purchases. The publisher added that players could still progress freely using in-game currency, and that the game’s Gem-based payment method was clearly explained in the game’s tutorial.
In the ASA’s words, EA also stated that, “the average player would expect a free-to-play title to be monetised with countdown timers and premium currency, and mentioned popular titles that use this feature. They stated their belief that the mechanics of Dungeon Keeper were well within the average length and frequency for the market and that players of combat simulators would therefore reasonably expect them.
“Electronic Arts also stated that the timers and premium currency did not only function as a monetisation strategy, but balanced gameplay and provided players with a sense of progression and enabled resource management. They said that even if there was no monetisation in the game a timing mechanism would still be present.”
The ASA’s final verdict reads, “The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Electronic Arts Ltd to ensure that future ads made clear the limitations of free gameplay and role of in-app purchasing with regard to speeding up gameplay.”
What do you think of the ruling and Dungeon Keeper’s paid mechanics?