Gardenscams: Advertising Standards Authority bans adverts for Homescapes and Gardenscapes games

November 17, 2020

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3 min read

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What's going on here?

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned two misleading adverts for “match three” style mobile games Homescapes and Gardenscapes.

What does this mean?

The advertisements were deemed misleading because what they showed differed greatly from the actual gameplay. In the adverts, a minigame was depicted where players were shown to pull pins from a puzzle. In reality, the main gameplay involved (“match three”) games, close to the puzzles used on Candy Crush and Bejewelled.   

The actual games both feature similar graphics, with the player being required to renovate a virtual garden or home. The apps each have over 100 million installs from the Google Play store, and are hugely popular. Playrix, the developer of the games, has argued that the pin-pulling gameplay was a genuine part of their puzzle games. However, it was found that the minigames were only available after the first twenty levels; they were also only playable during the higher levels, which reportedly only 0.03% of players reach. As a result of the complaint, Playrix altered the app, allowing for the minigames to appear closer to the start.

Playrix argued that the reason the puzzles featured in the advert was because it demonstrated gameplay variety. “Match three” style puzzles are featured in countless similar apps, so the pin-style minigame was a unique aspect of the application’s gameplay, setting it apart from competing games.

What's the big picture effect?

This case represents the most recent in a long line of ASA complaints about misleading game adverts. Gaming analyst Matthew Bailey has said that some game developers “are actively targeting consumers that are more likely to pay for in-app purchases, or sit through a higher number of ads,”. He also explained that “it would not be surprising for a publisher to target certain types of gamers with ads featuring the more competitive and problem-solving elements of their title, even if they don’t make up the bulk of gameplay”. This highlights the broader issue with misleading advertising; consumers are more likely to pay money in-game if they are misled into thinking the application is something that it is not.

Despite the fact that the advert contained a warning at the bottom stating that “not all images represent actual gameplay”, the ASA agreed with the complaints that were made. Following the ruling, Playrix is unable to produce similar adverts again. Bailey has suggested that “the ASA’s recent ruling on the topic will send an even stronger message to other game makers about their use of misleading ads”. Not only is Playrix now prevented from publishing misleading adverts, but other game developers are also likely to take note of the ASA’s action.

If developers are not careful or choose to ignore the ASA, they could open the doors to legal involvement. The ASA itself is not a statutory organisation so cannot enforce or interpret legislation; its code of practice simply reflects legislation surrounding advertising. Advertisers could however face false advertising litigation from competitors if they decide to pursue a claim; this could happen if the misleading advertisement gave one company an unfair advantage over another for example. Either way, we can be sure that we will see fewer of those irritating advertisements on our Instagram and Facebook feeds.

Report written by Rowenna Allen

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