Free-to-play mobile games may seem easily accessible, but they’re often plagued with in-game ads. Some puzzle games may give a player extra moves if they watch an ad, or others may play an ad before and after every level.
One set of ads from the developer Playrix was recently banned in the UK. The developer created the popular match-3 puzzle games Gardenscapes and Homescapes. In each game, players help a man named Austin make various home repairs. Players unlock the repairs and other home improvements by earning stars through playing puzzle games.
If a player wants to complete even one room of Austin’s mansion, they may have to complete 50-100 puzzle levels. There is no other gameplay, but that’s where Playrix’s ads were found to be misleading.
Playrix’s ads did not show examples of the match-3 gameplay. Instead, they showed Austin in various dangerous situations. Players had to watch or interact with the ad to save Austin from falling down a well, surviving in cold weather, or getting eaten by a shark. None of these situations occur in the real versions of the game.
— ASA (@ASA_UK) October 13, 2020
ASA investigated the ads and posted the results on its official website. In total, seven complainants believed that the ads did not represent Gardenscapes and Homescapes and claimed it was a misleading advertisement.
The developer fought back. Playrix believed that the ads represented the game’s story, along with the game’s important characters. The company believed the ads “appealed to the logic and problem-solving skills required to win during the games.” The ads also contained some small disclaimer text that the ads did not present all of the games’ gameplay.
ASA ultimately concluded that the ads were misleading:
The ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules – 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Qualification), and 3.11 (Exaggeration).
The final judgment is that the ads must not appear again in a misleading manner. If Playrix wants to advertise either game, they must properly show that the game primarily has match-3 puzzle gameplay.
While these misleading ads for Gardenscapes and Homescapes have been banned, it’s not the end. Now developers are inserting other characters from puzzle games into the same ads to get around the ban. The ban also seems to be only in the UK for now.
Some games offer a paid purchase to turn off all ads. Other games may not give players a choice, which may be considered the real “cost” behind downloading a free mobile casual game.
If players want to enjoy a game without ads, they can try out paid options, including the Apple Arcade or GameClub.