Insights Fool’s Gold: The Rise of Deceptive Gaming Advertisements


Have you been misled by an advertisement of a game? You’re not alone. With a potential recession looming, it’s no surprise that companies are turning to unsavoury ways to capture your attention. This can be anything from exaggerated claims about gameplay to advertising games which, put simply, don’t exist.

For years, mobile gaming has been the largest and fastest-growing segment in the games industry, but recent data suggests that it may be declining for the first time. With mobile games heavily reliant on digital advertising, companies are struggling to stand out in a saturated market.

The challenges of advertising mobile games have only increased following Google and Apple’s privacy guideline changes. Last year, Google introduced new in-game advertising guidelines, including limiting the amount of time an advert can be displayed before users can exit, while Apple has limited app tracking of install advert effectiveness, reducing companies’ ability to target specific groups and monitor advertising performance.

Advertising in the UK is regulated on a few different bases. It is underpinned by consumer law, but also has a strong co-regulation and self-regulation element. There are multiple rules in multiple rulebooks that say if you’re putting gameplay in your adverts, it should be accurate. In spite of this, misleading advertising was one of this year’s themes of complaints to the UK’s advertising regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”). The main complaints against mobile games companies were that the adverts gave a false impression of a game’s quality, features and/or graphics. This can include, for example, the use of “target footage” designed and edited to showcase the game in the best possible light, or the use of early or pre-release game footage that is not representative of the final product.

Rivergame Ltd is the latest mobile developer to come under fire. In November 2022, the ASA found that the company’s TikTok advertisements for its online game Top War were misleading, as they depicted locations, gameplay, and graphics that were not in the game, which exaggerated its performance. Below are some examples reported to be advertisements for Top War on TikTok (source):

Advertisements for Top War on TikTok (source):

Actual gameplay (collected on Android – 31.01.23):

In April 2022, the ASA also investigated a paid Twitter advertisement by AppQuantum for the mobile game Gold and Goblins, which showed a cartoon goblin harvesting resources from a free-roam area. The developer argued that the advertisement was a “cinematic representation” of the game’s themes, but when compared to the actual game, which took place in a static location, the ASA found a significant discrepancy that was likely to mislead viewers.

The advert in question

Actual gameplay (collected on Android – 31.01.23):

If the ASA upholds a complaint, it typically requires the amendment or removal of the advert. Other sanctions may include pre-vetting future advertisements or removal of paid advertisements from search engines. While the ASA does not have the power to impose fines, it operates effectively on a “name and shame” basis and has the authority to refer persistent offenders to other regulators, such as the Competition and Markets Authority, for more severe sanctions (including fines).

The ASA’s rulings send a clear message to game developers and publishers: if you include in-game footage in advertisements, make sure it is highly accurate. Misleading advertising is not only harmful to end-users who purchase games that fail to deliver on their promises, but also to the industry as a whole as public trust in advertising claims is eroded.