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U.K. regulator: Ad that calls Dungeon Keeper 'free' is 'misleading'

Dungeon Keeper for iOS and Android.

Above: Dungeon Keeper for iOS and Android.

Image Credit: Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts may no longer call Dungeon Keeper “free” in advertisements in the U.K.

The U.K. Advertising Standards Agency found that EA violated its rules and misled customers. In an advertisement for Dungeon Keeper, a free-to-play mobile defense-strategy game with in-app purchases, the publisher explicitly said that you could get the game “for free.” The U.K. authority took issue with that characterization, and it will no longer permit EA to use that ad.

Dungeon Keeper is available now on iOS and Android. While it is free to download, gameplay timers often prevent you from playing unless you purchase more time.

In its defense, EA said that anyone could download the game at no cost and that the “average player” expects in-app purchases. The ASA did not accept that excuse and explained why in a statement:

“While we understood that the average consumer would appreciate that free-to-play games were likely to contain monetization functions, we considered that they would also expect the play experience of a game described as ‘free’ to not be excessively restricted. Similarly, although we acknowledged that a timer mechanism could be a legitimate part of gameplay experience, the nature of the timer frequency and length in Dungeon Keeper, in combination with the way it was monetized, was likely to create a game experience for non-spenders that did not reflect their reasonable expectations from the content of the ad.”

While this might seem like the ASA is coming down on all free-to-play games, the regulator went on to note that Dungeon Keeper’s in-app purchases are particularly egregious.

More from the ASA statement:

“Similarly, although we acknowledged that a timer mechanism could be a legitimate part of gameplay experience, the nature of the timer frequency and length in Dungeon Keeper, in combination with the way it was monetised, was likely to create a game experience for non-spenders that did not reflect their reasonable expectations from the content of the ad. Because the game had the potential to restrict gameplay beyond that which would be expected by consumers and the ad did not make this aspect of the role of in-app purchasing clear, we concluded that it was misleading.”

Dungeon Keeper for mobile is a sequel to the classic 1997 PC strategy game. The iOS and Android version launched in August. Fans of the original immediately voiced criticism of the mobile Dungeon Keeper for its in-app purchases.

EA chief executive officer Andrew Wilson eventually conceded that the company made a misstep with Dungeon Keeper.


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