A potential Roblox FTC inquiry could be on the cards. The advertising watchdog TINA.org (Truth In Advertising) has reported the platform to the FTC, alleging that Roblox and some of the brands that use it are engaging in deceptive advertising practices.
What's the reason for this potential Roblox FTC inquiry?
According to an investigation by TINA, Roblox "allows advertising to be surreptitiously interlaced with organic content" and makes earnings claims that don't represent the majority of creators in order to lure devs in. TINA says Roblox hasn't complied with truth in advertising laws, leading to brands creating undisclosed "advergames", employing undisclosed endorsement avatars, and using AI promo bots to lure in players to spend money. According to TINA, this constitutes deceptive advertising, and so the watchdog has filed a complaint with the FTC.
As well as these deceptive advertising practices, TINA is also alleging that Roblox is deceiving its customers by making "unsubstantiated income claims". According to TINA, consumers are being lured to the Roblox platform with the promise of making massive amounts of Robux, which they can then convert into real money, even though most Roblox developers won't see even a fraction of the promised amount. Brands using the Roblox "metaverse" include Nike, Mattel, Vans, and Netflix, many of whom are creating advertising content "indistinguishable" from organic Roblox games, according to TINA. While it's difficult for users to discern what's marketing and what isn't, TINA says, it's "impossible" for the 25 million children accessing Roblox to do so.
The complaint itself is fairly lengthy, but it urges the FTC to "act swiftly" in order to protect consumers from what TINA sees as predatory and deceptive behavior on Roblox's part. In the complaint, TINA alleges that Roblox is taking up users' time and money while also extracting personal data from them, and that many of the brands that are participating in the Roblox metaverse are complicit in this behavior as well. TINA wants the FTC to investigate Roblox and "take appropriate enforcement action", in a similar manner to its investigation into Tapjoy back in 2021. It's not yet clear whether TINA's complaint will result in a full FTC investigation, so we'll have to wait and see what happens next.
Gaming and advertising have a contentious relationship
Given the nature of advertising, it perhaps shouldn't come as a surprise that this is far from the first time gaming advertising has been accused of being deceptive or unfair. In September last year, a disgruntled UK Redditor filed a complaint against advertising for the much-beleaguered Star Citizen. The complaint was upheld, leading developer CIG to add a disclaimer to all subsequent ship sale emails accommodating for the content of the complaint. The UK Advertising Standards Agency has also upheld complaints against companies like Playrix and ABI Global, both mobile developers who fell foul of advertising standards. The nature of TINA's complaint against Roblox is slightly different, of course, but it still boils down to "this advert is not what it should be".
It's unlikely that Roblox is going to back down from this easily. The game (or should that be "platform"?) currently enjoys more than 48 million daily players and was valued at around $30 billion, so it's pretty big business for its creators. A lot of that money is likely to come from brand investment, so the idea that Roblox's brands should toe the line and be less commercially aggressive probably won't sit well with any of the parties concerned (apart from TINA and players, of course). We'll bring you more on this as we get it.