Loot boxes continue to be a hot topic amongst the UK games industry, the government and regulatory bodies, due to their resemblance to gambling and perceived risks to the vulnerable. Last July, Ukie (the largest trade body for the UK games and interactive entertainment industry) published the  “Industry Principles” guidance (Guidance) (which we commented on here) on loot boxes amidst evidence of an “association” between loot boxes and various harms. CAP had produced guidance back in 2021 aimed at ensuring that advertisers know how to avoid misleading consumers about the cost of in-game purchases, whether games contain them, and how they might affect gameplay.

This week's Advertising Standards Authority's (ASA) ruling against Miniclip is a reminder to publishers and advertisers alike about the need for a sensitive approach towards loot boxes. 

The ad 

The ad in question appeared on Facebook in September 2023, promoting Miniclip's 8 Ball Pool game. An ASA investigation was launched following a complaint from a game regulation researcher, who challenged whether the ad was misleading because it failed to disclose the presence of loot boxes in the game.


Miniclip's response

In a very brief rebuttal, Miniclip denied any wrongdoing, because the game was free to play and progress in. But it also voluntarily removed the ad following the complaint and said that future ads would not omit such material information. 

Unlocking the truth

ASA considered the ad to be misleading, in breach of CAP Code Rules 3.1 and 3.3 (misleading advertising). 

ASA, referring to the CAP Guidance, particularly considered the presence of random-item purchasing, such as loot boxes, as material to a consumer's consideration whether or not to purchase or download a game. This means that any game advertising needs to make clear that it contains in-game or random-item purchasing, whichever is relevant. 8 Ball Pool fell short of such standards because, whilst it contained virtual currencies and loot boxes available for purchase, the ad did not make it clear. 

Take home

As discussed in our commentary of Ukie's Guidance; the UK government has made clear that it considers changes around regulation of loot boxes are required. Whilst the Guidance is voluntary and regulation is fairly limited at the moment, the ASA's decision against Miniclip (and two other gaming companies) indicates that protecting the vulnerable against allegedly addictive practices, is a priority. As in-game purchases, such as lootboxes, are very common practice in the gaming world, brands and advertisers must make sure that all marketing communications make their target audience aware of lootboxes' existence.