The ASA received 23 complaints from individuals believing that the game content for No Man’s Sky (“NMS”) was not the same as was advertised on Steam (Steam is an entertainment platform where, among other things, video games are advertised to Steam’s gaming community). The Complainants challenged a number of advertised NMS features including that: (1) the gameplay footage on Steam misrepresented the game; and (2) the in-game graphics did not match the advertisement.
The game developer — Hello Games — provided the ASA with evidence about NMS, including a play-through of the game from the beginning that lasted 4 hours; user-uploaded, video-sharing content of the game; and a copy of NMS. Hello Games responded to the complaints that “unlike most games” each part of NMS was “procedurally generated rather than manually developed.” In other words, NMS used algorithms to determine what content a particular plaintiff encountered; that the user experience was not scripted; and each player would have their own individual experience.
Hello Games also explained that the videos in the advertisement were produced using a computer of average specification (based on a Steam survey showing typical user hardware), that was above the minimum specification for NMS. The videos in the advertisement were recordings of actual gameplay and the images were in-game screenshots.
ASA did not uphold the complaints. Finding for Hello Games after reviewing the evidence, ASA explained that “as NMS was procedurally generated, player experiences would vary according to what material was generated in their play-through.” ASA was also persuaded that consumers would understand that the advertisement of NMS was “representative of the type of content they would encounter during the gameplay” in part because the advertisement included a description that NMS was procedurally generated.
ASA also understood that the “graphical output” of NMS would be affected by the specifications of the gamer’s computer. ASA was also persuaded because the images in the advertisement were captured on a computer that was of average specification.
The complaints about NMS’s advertisements were detailed, as were the responses, and, ultimately, ASA’s analysis. NMS likely survived the challenge because Hello Games used actual game footage and actual screen shots from a computer of average specification. In other words, Hello Games’s decision in the first instance not to oversell NMS was likely key to its successful response to the complaints. When advertising games in the United States, the same decision — to understand the average user experience and represent that experience in advertising — will be a wise decision. For those who use separately crafted animation or video to advertise video games, those videos or animations should be so over-the-top or tangential to game play that reasonable consumers understand that no actual game play is represented and, even then, appropriate disclaimers that the images do not represent actual game play should be considered.