EA can't keep advertising Dungeon Keeper as 'free' in the UK, British agency says

The British Advertising Standards Authority ruled that EA's free-to-play mobile title Dungeon Keeper can not be advertised as such because of timed in-game events that prevent players from progressing without microtransactions, according to the ASA's website.

EA's iOS version of Dungeon Keeper is free to download and play without making in-app purchases. However, there are certain circumstances in which players have to wait for a countdown timer to finish in order to continue developing their dungeons.

The ASA stated that because this timer becomes "excessively onerous" deeper into the game and players can only skip it by paying money, Dungeon Keeper cannot be advertised as free-to-play. Moving forward, all of the game's U.K. ads will have to make some notice of using in-app purchases.

"We regarded it as extremely likely that players would reach a position where they would be unable to take any further meaningful or progressive action in the game until a timer had finished or been skipped, and that these periods would become longer and more significant, and the cost of skipping increasingly higher, as the player progressed," reads the ASA's statement. "From the information available in the ad, players would expect the gameplay progression and their ability to advance to be unhindered by unexpected and excessively onerous delays, and we therefore considered that the length and frequency of these countdown events was beyond that which would be reasonably expected by players."

The ASA feels that players will find their experience "unexpectedly curtailed" based on advertisements that the game is free, not knowing that money is needed to progress more quickly. The organization also took umbrage that the game's ads and main copy on its App Store listing did not mentioned in-app purchases or the timer.

"While we understood that the average consumer would appreciate that free-to-play games were likely to contain monetization functions, we considered that they would also expect the play experience of a game described as ‘free' to not be excessively restricted," the statement reads.

In response to the ASA, EA stated that its ads were not misleading as in-app purchases are not required to play Dungeon Keeper; they are also a means for some players to progress more quickly as a matter of personal preference. The company also said that timers and premium in-game currency — Gems — balanced gameplay and added a resource management level to the game in addition to providing the company with a monetization model. Even if no microtransactions were available, Dungeon Keeper for iOS would still have the timing mechanic.

However, this explanation was not enough for the ASA, who determined that all U.K. ads featuring Dungeon Keeper need to explicitly mention microtransactions from now on.

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