In an interesting twist, the U.K.-based Advertising Standards Authority has this week decided not
to recognize and uphold a parent's complaint against Gameloft that one of its free-to-play mobile games is designed to exploit children by coercing them into making in-app purchases.
The game in question, Littlest Pet Shop
, bears the brand of a popular children's entertainment franchise and allows players to buy premium in-game currency ("bling") using real money.
This is notable because we're talking about the same regulatory firm that barred EA from advertising its free-to-play Dungeon Keeper mobile game as 'free'
earlier this year in response to customer complaints.
Shortly thereafter European authorities laid out strict rules governing in-app purchases
that have caused significant changes in mobile markets, including Apple's recent decision to remove the 'Free' label from the Apple App Store
However, Gameloft seems to have steered clear of regulatory action this time around. According to the ASA ruling
, regulators acknowledged that the Gameloft game was indeed targeted specifically at young children but that the developers had peppered the game with enough clearly-worded warnings to reasonably expect that parents would be aware of the game's microtransaction scheme and could govern their children accordingly.
"We considered that those in-game notices provided factual information about what users could purchase with their current amount of in-game currency and further reiterated how the in-game currency operated," reads the ASA assessment. "We also considered that it made clear that users were required to 'buy' bling 'for real money.' We therefore considered that the in-game notices were not a direct exhortation, but rather a mechanism for purchase."
The ASA evaluated the game under the auspices of the U.K.'s CAP Code
, a set of guidelines for advertising best practices issued by the Committee of Advertising Practice. Since regulators did not believe Littlest Pet Shop
contains a direct exhortation mechanism to buy products, "we concluded that it was not in breach of the Code."