Two of the UK’s most prominent children’s websites, Moshi Monsters and Bin Weevils, have been rapped by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for promoting paid subscriptions to their players.
Both sites, which offer a blend of games, character customisation and social features, were ruled to have breached the UK’s “CAP Code” advertising standards on social responsibility, as well as direct exhortation and parental authority.
The complaint against Moshi Monsters’ parent company Mind Candy focused on ads within its virtual world for paid memberships, promoting “all sorts of cool extras” if children persuaded their parents to pay a monthly subscription.
Bin Weevils’ parent company 55 Pixels was targeted for similar promotion of paid memberships, as well as directing players to a page selling its “Dosh” virtual currency.
The ASA has told both companies not to show the relevant ads again in the form complained about, as well as to avoid phrases like “Join now”, “Become a member” and other direct exhortations to make payments.
In its ruling on Moshi Monsters, the ASA added that phrases such as “Members are going to be super popular” put pressure on children to buy (or pester for, given that parents were responsible for the actual payments) a subscription to the site.
Mind Candy said the company has already made changes. “We take our responsibilities very seriously with regards to how we communicate with all of our fans, especially children,” said a spokesperson.
“We have been working with the ASA to ensure that we adhere to best practice and have made changes to the Moshi Monsters game accordingly. We will continue to work with the ASA in any way possible.”
55 Pixels said. “As soon as 55 Pixels were made aware of the complaint made to the ASA about a potential breach, and once we had understood the area for concern, we changed all our membership pages to comply with their recommendations. They subsequently upheld the compliant about the original wording but referenced that we now complied, in the text of the ruling.”
British games industry body Ukie issued its own statement, with chief executive Jo Twist claiming that the rulings are “a useful piece of additional guidance for games companies about how existing laws apply to the new world of free-to-play business models”.
Twist added that the two rulings are the only actions taken by the ASA since the UK’s Office of Fair Trading published new guidelines for children’s online games and apps in January 2014, suggesting that this shows the children’s games industry has taken the advice on board.
Policing the apps sector will be more challenging for bodies like the ASA as the boundaries between children’s and adults’ games are blurrier on smartphones and tablets.
Mind Candy is behind the World of Warriors game, for example, which is free to play but includes special offers for in-app purchases of its wildstone virtual currency.
World of Warriors’ spin-off magazine and trading cards may be aimed at children, but from the start, the game has been pitched at a “family” audience including adults – making it less clear-cut whether it should be judged as a children’s game.
55 Pixels has launched two mobile games, Tink’s Blocks and Bin Golfin’, but both are paid for upfront rather than use in-app purchases.
This article was written by Stuart Dredge, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 26th August 2015 11.09 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010