ASA Removes Lootbox Ads, But Academic Warns There Are Hundreds More

March 20, 2024
The UK’s advertising watchdog has banned three separate social media ads for games that failed to disclose that they included loot boxes, after they were flagged by an academic. 

The UK’s advertising watchdog has banned three separate social media ads for games that failed to disclose that they included loot boxes, after they were flagged by an academic.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) published its decisions on March 20.

Leon Xiao, PhD fellow from the Center for Digital Play at the IT University of Copenhagen, revealed to Vixio GamblingCompliance that he was behind the complaints.

“I could have literally made over 100 complaints, but my resources were limited,” he said, adding that social media platforms “need to play a bigger role here in policing the adverts for compliance prior to publication”.

“I chose those three companies because they are leading UK companies,” Xiao told Vixio.

Electronic Arts (EA) and Jagex, which were found to be in breach by the ASA, are members of the technical working group for lootbox industry self-regulation assembled by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.

“I think this challenges whether that group can be relied upon to deliver the intended aims of better protecting players and children. Those members are supposed to be role models, rather than rulebreakers themselves,” Xiao said.

Following Xiao's complaints to the ad regulator, video game giant EA must ensure in the future that all ads for its mobile game Golf Clash disclose the presence of in-game purchases, including random item purchases (loot boxes), after two ads appeared for the game on Facebook last year.

EA said that the ads were mistakenly published without the prescribed disclosure, which it claimed is a company policy to include for paid ads. The company removed the adverts and reiterated its commitment to compliant advertising, according to the decision.

Another paid-for Facebook ad from game developer Jagex for its popular online multiplayer game RuneScape in September 2023 was also taken down for not including loot box disclosures. 

“Although we acknowledged that the presence of in-game purchases and random item purchases were disclosed once the consumer clicked through to the landing page, we considered that the ad itself did not include information which made that clear to consumers,” the ASA stated in its decision.

A separate Facebook advert from September 2023 for online game company Miniclip’s 8 Ball Pool game was taken down which stated “PLAY FREE NOW” and included a link to the game on the Apple App Store.

The 8 Ball Pool advert was flagged by the researcher who knew the game contained in-game purchases, including loot boxes, and challenged whether the ad was misleading because it omitted material information. The ASA agreed that it was misleading and ordered that it cannot appear again in the same form. 

Separately, a Lindar Media advert for a slot bonus was also banned for including a cartoon image of Santa that was deemed to appeal to young people, according to the ASA decision

A complaint against a Leo Vegas Bet MGM advert that included Chris Rock was not upheld as the advert was found to not appeal to children, in part due to his lack of social media presence. 

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