ASA Adjudication on Jagex Ltd
Jagex Ltd t/a
St John's Innovation Centre
25 July 2012
Internet (social games), Internet (sales promotion), In-game (online)
Number of complaints:
A number of ads for Squeal of Fortune, a mini-game within the online game RuneScape (www.runescape.com), were seen on the RuneScape website. Squeal of Fortune (SoF) required users to spin a wheel to win prizes to use in RuneScape. Every spin resulted in an item being won, but the value of the item, in terms of how it enhanced a user's experience, varied substantially. Every user was given free spins on a daily basis but the number varied depending on whether the user was a member or not, and their performance in the game.
The ads promoted the mini-game and gave users the opportunity to buy more spins. Wording used in the ads included: "Get more spins", "Win on the Wheel" and "Buy Spins".
Three complainants challenged whether the ads were irresponsible because there was no age limit set for buying spins. They said once a user had paid to become a member of RuneScape, their credit/debit information was held and did not have to be re-entered. Therefore, the complainants objected that the ads encouraged children to make repeat purchases without parental consent.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
Jagex Ltd (Jagex) said all their advertising was prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and society, and that several mechanisms existed to ensure that children were not able to purchase spins without their parent's/guardian's permission. They admitted that not all these mechanisms had been in place when the option to pay for spins was initially introduced for SoF, but that as soon as concerns had been raised by users and the Jagex billing team, they had quickly taken action to ensure greater consumer protection.
Jagex explained that they had introduced a minimum age limit of 13 years for RuneScape in 2010. This was enforced by an age screening mechanism. While they acknowledged that some users below the age of 13 did have accounts, they said this represented a very low number. They also said most of their users were over the age of 18 but did not provide any evidence to support that claim.
They accepted that children both above and below the age of 13 could purchase spins but argued that that was subject to their parent's/guardian's consent. They explained that RuneScape was available to play for free but that members had the option of paying a monthly subscription which, in effect, upgraded their membership and gave them a broader gaming experience. Those paying for a subscription could pay using a credit or debit card and Jagex confirmed that card information, excluding the CVC/CVV Code (a unique three digit code on the reverse of the card), could be retained by their security systems, but only if the customer ticked a box stating "Save my card details for next time". Jagex said a card's CVC/CVV Code was never retained, but once initially verified, it did not have to be re-entered.
Jagex said when the option to purchase spins was launched for SoF on 2 April 2012, those were the only mechanisms in place to ensure consumer protection. They assumed that if a CVC/CVV code had been successfully checked when the card was first used, and the cardholder had ticked the "Save my card details for next time" box, then the cardholder had effectively consented to all future payments using that card in association with their Jagex account.
After complaints from the RuneScape community, however, Jagex said they had introduced a new mechanism which meant that a card's CVC/CVV code had to be re-entered by the consumer every time a new purchase was made. Jagex supplied evidence to show that the mechanism was in place for all users who chose to save their card details to their account after it was introduced on 5 April 2012.
Jagex therefore argued that, after 5 April, even if a child had a subscription and their parent's/guardian's card information had been retained with consent after a previous purchase, the child would not know the CVC/CVV code and would have to ask their parent/guardian every time they wished to purchase spins.
Jagex stated that if they did not have robust guardian/parental consent mechanisms in place, parents/guardians would rightly be able to chargeback any unauthorised transactions, therefore causing Jagex significant commercial damage and loss.
They also asserted that the mini-game and all the ads promoting it were designed to be consistent with the graphical style of RuneScape and appropriate for both young teenagers and adults. Jagex argued that, although the ads which promoted the game used call-to-action language such as "Buy Spins", they also highlighted the other ways that users could acquire spins such as "Get more spins" or "Earn Spins for Completing Quests"; and "Buy Spins" had not been given undue prominence in relation to the other call-to-actions.
The ASA noted that Jagex was unable to provide a clear breakdown of their users' ages or evidence to confirm that most of their users were above the age of 18. We also understood that users could set up an account despite being under 13. We accepted, however, that Jagex designed all its advertising for a range of ages and that ads promoting the purchase of spins were not given undue prominence in comparison with those promoting free spins.
We noted that a child who wished to play RuneScape would have the option of playing for free or asking a parent or guardian to purchase a subscription on their behalf. We understood that for a child with a free account, any attempt to purchase spins would require all their parent's/guardian's card details to be entered and therefore would require their parent's/guardian's consent. We also understood that if a parent/guardian felt comfortable with their child playing Runescape and purchased a subscription on their behalf, they could opt out of having their card details retained.
We noted that the need to re-enter a CVC/CVV code was not initially required for repeat payments, and this could have allowed children to purchase spins without their parent's/guardian's consent. We understood, however, that as soon as concerns had been raised regarding the possibility of parents unwittingly leaving the "Save my card details for next time" box ticked, Jagex quickly introduced a mechanism to ensure that even if card details were saved to an account, every subsequent purchase still required the card's CVC/CVV code to be re-entered and verified.
We considered that the mechanisms Jagex had put in place were sufficient to ensure that, in most cases, a child would not be able to purchase spins without their parent's/guardian's consent, and that the ads did not place undue emphasis on the purchase of spins. We therefore concluded that the ads were not socially irresponsible.
We investigated the ads under CAP code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Compliance) and 8.8 (Children) but did not find them in breach.
No further action necessary.