A recent adjudication by the Advertising Standards Authority provides guidance on the kind of information which adverts must give to consumers about the impact of in-app purchases on gameplay.
What's the issue?
There have been a number of efforts recently to crack down on in-app purchase cost shock. These include OFT guidance on in-app purchases issued last year and the new Consumer Contracts Regulations. In relation to advertising, it is the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) which has the power to examine adverts for apps and consider whether they are misleading about potential costs under the CAP Code.
What's the development?
A recent ASA adjudication held that an advert for a "free" game app was misleading by not explaining that failure to make in-app purchases would restrict gameplay beyond that which would reasonably be expected by consumers in the context of the ad. While the ASA agreed that the game could be played without making in-app purchases and without bypassing countdown timers using premium in-game currency (which could either be won or purchased), it found that there was a sufficiently significant impact on gameplay to mean that the direct email advert which referred to the fact that the game was free and showed a screenshot of the game at an advanced stage, was misleading and in breach of the CAP Code rules 3.1, 3.3, and 3.9.
This adjudication is interesting because there was no dispute that the game could be played to a fairly advanced level without making in-app purchases. Despite the supplier producing statistics to back up the contention that gameplay was not severely limited by failure to make in-app purchases, and the fact that the product description and tutorial explained the function of the in-app purchases, the ASA found the advert misleading. The basis for the decision was the fact that in-app purchases had a more significant impact on gameplay than the consumer would reasonably have expected from the information given in the advert, both in terms of how premium currency could be accrued without purchase, and the frequency and duration of the timers which could only be bypassed using the premium currency. The ASA said the ad should have made clear what consumers could expect from the free elements and told that in-app purchases would have a significant impact on gameplay.
What does this mean for you?
If you supply free apps for which in-app purchases significantly enhance user experience (or conversely, where failure to make in-app purchases significantly detracts from user experience), you need to remember to make this clear not only in your terms and conditions but also in any advertising.