UK regulator bans misleading Homescapes, Gardenscapes pin puzzle ads

The UK ad authority has put the kibosh on a certain format of ads used by Playrix, arguing that the ads for each wildly misrepresent the gameplay of each title.

The UK ad authority has put the kibosh on a certain format of ads used by Playrix for its games Homescapes and Gardenscapes, arguing that some frequent advertising misrepresents the gameplay of each title.

The Advertising Standards Authority regularly weighs in what does and doesn’t fly for game advertisements in the UK, meaning it's important for fellow game developers to keep up with the authority’s decisions in order to ensure their own ads don’t end up on the chopping block.

Past rulings have targeted games like Gran Turismo Sport for misrepresenting offline content or Grand Theft Auto V for misleading Steam Sale ads a few years back, though the list goes on and on.

The Playrix ads in the ASA’s crosshairs this time around might be familiar to anyone that regularly dabbles in mobile free-to-play games or scrolls through social media: each depicts a puzzle that requires players to slide a variety of pins in a certain order to save a cartoonish character from certain doom.

Only, as the ad regulator points out, the gameplay seemingly featured in those advertisements is nothing close to what’s actually found in the bulk of the match-3 games they’re advertising.

The complaint itself sprung out of two particular Facebook advertisements, one for Homescapes and one for Gardenscapes, that followed that pin-pulling format and aimed to lure would-be players with phrases like “only 5 percent can solve this!” and “Think you can do better?”, among others.

In response to ASA’s investigation, Playrix argued that the puzzles shared thematic similarities with the gameplay and narrative players could expect in the actual games.

“Playrix believed consumers would take from the ads that the games contained the content seen, as well as similar content involving similar characters,” reads the ASA’s retelling of Playrix’s response. “Also that the games would have the same design and mechanics, alongside similar gameplay. They believed that the ad appealed to the logic and problem-solving skills required to win during the games. They also believed consumers may have thought that their games were not straightforward ‘match-3’ titles, but would include a variety of mechanics.”

The studio also makes the argument that the minigames do actually appear in Homescapes, albeit only 10 times in total and often a ways into the game’s progression so early players might not see them.

The full ASA ruling can be found here, but in short the authority has decreed that Playrix's ads are misleading despite Playrix’s inclusion of a disclaimer that “Not all images represent actual gameplay.” As such, the offending advertisements can no longer run (in the UK at least) and Playrix has been told to “ensure” their future ads actually represent the gameplay of the titles they’re linked to.

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