The UK Advertising Standards Authority has upheld complaints against sexually suggestive mobile ads that were being shown in games with a PEGI 3 rating. The ads, which include animated characters spanking each other (among other things), now "must not appear again" as they currently are, according to the ASA.
What is Brain Story: Tricky Puzzle and why has it fallen foul of the ASA?
It's not unusual for games to fall foul of the ASA; even major projects like Star Citizen find themselves in contention with the Authority from time to time. In this case, however, the problem is far more blatant. According to the official ASA ruling, the ad, which is for casual "puzzler" Brain Story: Tricky Puzzle, appeared in Gallery: Coloring Book & Decor and Alice's Resort: Word Game (welcome to the mobile gaming space), both of which have age ratings of 3 and up. That means kids as young as 3 could have seen the ad, which, considering its content, isn't a great look.
To quote the rather delightfully droll ASA ruling, content includes women "wearing Christmas-themed outfits playing rock, paper, scissors", with the loser being spanked by the winner. Other parts of the ad include a woman having her feet tickled (in a sexually suggestive way, natch), as well as a man having clothes pegs attached to his nipples. Suffice it to say, this isn't an ad you want your kids seeing, but the ASA went further than that, ruling that the ad breached three rules of the Authority's Code: social responsibility, moral harm, and condoning violence. It's worth noting that Brain Story: Tricky Puzzle is just one of many copycat-style games on mobile stores. Some of these games were developed by ABI, while others were created by other studios, but the content is usually the same; extremely basic puzzles with a little animated titillation to draw you in.
How has the ASA resolved this matter?
The ASA said that the Brain Story: Tricky Puzzle ad was "not suitable to be featured in any game". In addition to this, the ASA says developer ABI Global shirked its responsibility by allowing the ad to be displayed in games rated PEGI 3, potentially exposing children as young as 3 to this sexually suggestive imagery. The ASA tried to contact ABI Global as part of its inquiry, but the studio didn't respond, thus breaching another Authority Code item (unreasonable delay). As such, the ASA has now told ABI Global that it must not show the ad again in its current form, nor should it cause "serious or widespread offence" by including gender stereotypes or objectification of women.
The mobile gaming space has had run-ins with the ASA before. Homescapes, a game somewhat notorious for its misleading ads, was the subject of a complaint to the ASA back in 2020, which was also upheld (albeit not for the same reasons). Despite these breaches of advertising standards, the mobile space is clearly still an appealing one; earlier this year, gaming giant Take-Two acquired mobile titan Zynga in order to strengthen its mobile gaming division, showing this is still an area in which major gaming companies are interested. We've reached out to ABI Global for comment on this story and we'll bring you more as soon as we get it.