Ctrl-Alt-Del: Advertising council to misleading online gaming ads

ASCI has laid down guidelines, which will kick in from December 15, to make gaming ads involving real money safer and responsible
Online gaming, an exponentially growing segment in India, has often invited concern, especially if it involves real money. As recently as last Friday, it even invited a ban with the Tamil Nadu governor promulgating an ordinance putting a stop to online gaming in the state. An addiction, a financial risk – these are some words that are often associated with the industry. The attractive advertising of the games, which gives no sense of the possible risks involved, does not help matters. So the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has decided to step in and do something about it.

ASCI has laid down guidelines, which will kick in from December 15, to make gaming ads involving real money safer and responsible.

The guidelines state that no online gaming ad is allowed to depict a person aged less than 18, or who appears to be under 18, playing the game to win actual money. Or, even suggest that a person that young can play such games.

They also lay down that every such gaming ad must compulsorily carry a disclaimer that states: “This game involves an element of financial risk and may be addictive. Please play responsibly and at your own risk.” Like the warning pictures and messages prominently displayed on cigarette and tobacco-product packets, this disclaimer should occupy at least 20 per cent of the ad space in print or static advertisements such as billboards, the guidelines say. If the ad is in audio, video or audio-visual format, it should play out in normal speaking pace and in the same language as the ad.

Other don’ts include that the ad should not present online gaming for winning money as an income opportunity or alternative employment option, or suggest that a person playing such games is more successful than others.

Responsible play
  • No online gaming ad to depict a person under 18, or who appears to be under 18, playing the game for real money win. Or, even suggest that such a person can play such games
  • Every such gaming ad to carry the following disclaimer: “This game involves an element of financial risk and may be addictive. Please play responsibly and at your own risk.”
  • Ad should not present “Online gaming for real money winnings” as an income opportunity or alternative employment option
  • Ad should not suggest person engaged in gaming activity is in any way more successful as compared to others

ASCI Secretary General Manisha Kapoor says while guidelines against misleading ads already exist in the code laid down for advertisers by the self-regulatory body, a need was felt to focus them specifically on the online gaming-for-money industry. “When a particular industry becomes this big, it helps to have such sector-specific guidelines,” she says. A KPMG study says online gaming in India grew 45 per cent in FY20 with the user base surpassing 365 million by March 2020 on real-money games. India’s online gaming market, worth more than $500 million now, could be worth $1.1 billion by 2021.

ASCI, says Kapoor, has found that some ads present these games as a source of income – and even livelihood. “That there is an element of financial risk is not always disclosed. And if it is, it is not presented in any standardised format.”

Though he is yet to receive the guidelines, which were arrived at after consulting various stakeholders and the government, Dibyojyoti Mainak, vice-president Legal & Policy, Mobile Premier League (MPL), said: “Regulations are always welcome. In a sunrise sector, they bring stability and clarity. MPL will comply fully and proactively with them.”

Kapoor, too, is confident that they will be adhered to. “Last year, we had 98 per cent compliance rate from advertisers,” she says. And the remaining 2 per cent? In rare cases when an advertiser refuses to modify or withdraw the ad, the council, she says, escalates the matter to the government for action.



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