April 1, 2015 marked the date on which games businesses had to adhere to a new set of Principles, drawn up by the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT), and enforced by its superseding agency the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
In the intervening period between publication of the Principles and the compliance date, another regulator – the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – carried out its own investigations into two app-based games: Dungeon Keeper from Electronic Arts (in July 2014) and Littlest Pet Shop from Gameloft (in December 2014).
Using the Principles as a guide, the ASA came to the conclusion that in the case of Dungeon Keeper, the complainant was correct in their assertions that an ad for the game was misleading because it “omitted significant information”.
However, ASA cleared the developers of the Littlest Pet Shop of targeting children with “direct exhortation mechanisms to buy products”.
It was anticipated that the CMA would take enforcement action of its own after discovering that some firms continued to display poor practices after April 1.
Instead, however, it announced that it had concluded its work monitoring the children’s online and app-based games market, asking the ASA to decide whether or not to launch investigations against the three firms it had identified in its review.
The CMA’s announcement suggests it will leave enforcement action to the ASA in relation to online and app-based games. Given the wide range of complex issues the CMA is responsible for, it should perhaps come as no surprise that the regulator is taking a back seat in this particular area.
Meanwhile, it could be argued that the ASA is better positioned to police this area than the CMA, due to its agility in commencing investigations.
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