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ASA bans ad for free-to-play 'Dungeon Keeper' game for not being free-to-play

The Dungeon Keeper mobile reboot once again faces controversy for its monetization structure.
The Dungeon Keeper mobile reboot once again faces controversy for its monetization structure. Photo courtesy of EA, used with permission.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the UK's independent regulator of media advertising, has banned an ad for EA's mobile reboot of "Dungeon Keeper" Wednesday, on the grounds of misleading customers that the title was free-to-play.

Via CVG, the ASA received a complaint about an e-mail video game publisher EA sent to advertise "Dungeon Keeper" for iOS and Android. Here's the e-mail:

GET DUNGEON KEEPER ON MOBILE FOR FREE! ... DIG. DEVISE. DOMINATE. Build the most badass dungeon ever! Raise an army of diabolical minions and lay twisted traps to destroy any opponents foolish enough to set foot in your lair. MASTER THE HAND OF EVIL Cast powerful spells, pillage and plunder other players’ dungeons, and slap your imps around to make them work harder. A world of wicked fun is right at your fingertips. What are you waiting for, Keeper? Get it for FREE!

The ad was accompanied by a screenshot depicting a well-developed dungeon in the game and character art. A footnote that read "WIRELESS FEES MAY APPLY" was also present in the e-mail. The issue the complainant had with the ad was that since the gameplay of "Dungeon Keeper" was severely limited, unless in-app game purchase were made to speed up completion of menial tasks, EA was misleading customers by advertising the mobile game as free-to-play. The ASA agreed with the complainant and has banned the "Dungeon Keeper" ad as a result.

Unsurprisingly, the ruling didn't sit well for EA. The publisher argued there were no misleading information presented in the "Dungeon Keeper" ad, as the game was free to download and could be completed without consumers making any in-app purchases. EA cited the game's currency of stones, golds, and gems were obtainable without players digging out their wallets and were not a necessity. Despite EA's protest, the ASA upheld the ban, stating the publisher failed to inform "Dungeon Keeper" players on the lengthy timers that frequently interrupted gameplay and how the game itself is fixated on the need of in-app purchases to progress.

It was only this week when EA CEO Andrew Wilson described the situation behind the "Dungeon Keeper" mobile game as "a shame," as the publisher admitted to misjudging the economy placed within the revival. Original "Dungeon Keeper" creator, Peter Molyneux, has criticized the mobile game for disrupting gameplay with microtransactions.