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Game over for misleading gaming ads: ASCI

The regulatory guidelines will be effective from 15 December 2020.

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NEW DELHI: The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has introduced guidelines to make real-money gaming advertising safer and more responsible. The advisory has been developed to ensure that such advertising makes users aware of financial and other risks that are associated with playing online games with real money winnings.

Real money gaming (RMG) platforms gained traction during the Covid2019 pandemic-induced lockdowns, when users took to online gaming in a big way. From rummy and poker to fantasy gaming, there are multiple categories involving real money, with firms such as Dream11, Mobile Premier League (MPL), RummyPassion and Ace2Three gaining popularity by advertising and sponsoring important events.

The rapid growth of the online gaming sector, and the real danger of the negative impacts of RMG advertisements has prompted ASCI to develop advertising guidelines to ensure users are aware of the financial and addiction risks in the face of potentially misleading and harmful ads.

The guidelines, devised with the backing of the MIB, MEITY and department of consumer affairs, will be effective from 15 December 2020 and apply to ads that are legally permitted.

The guidelines:

1.      No gaming advertisement may depict any person under the age of 18 years, or who appears to be under the age of 18, engaged in playing a game of ONLINE GAMING FOR REAL MONEY WINNINGS, or suggest that such persons can play these games

2.      Every such gaming advertisement must carry the following disclaimer:

a.      Print/static: This game involves an element of financial risk and may be addictive. Please play responsibly and at your own risk

i.        Such a disclaimer should occupy no less than 20% of the space in the advertisement

ii.       It should also SPECIFICALLY meet disclaimer guidelines 4 (i) (ii) (iv) and (viii) laid out in the ASCI code

b.      Audio/video: “This game involves an element of financial risk and may be addictive. Please play responsibly and at your own risk.”

i.         Such a disclaimer must be placed in normal speaking pace at the end of the advertisement

ii.       It must be in the same language as the advertisement

iii.     For audio-visual mediums, the disclaimer needs to be in both audio and visual formats

3.      The advertisements should not present ‘Online gaming for real money winnings’ as an income opportunity or an alternative employment option.

4.      The advertisement should not suggest that a person engaged in gaming activity is in any way more successful as compared to others.

ASCI secretary-general Manisha Kapoor said that not only are these games highly addictive but also end up being misleading and harmful to individuals and society. “We have observed gaming advertisements target youth and families by suggesting that these can become sources of income and livelihood for them. We have noted concerns about such advertisements, both from consumers as well as the government. The key fact that is completely suppressed in most of these advertisements is the real possibility of losing money. Millions of users of these apps come from lower-income families, who can ill afford to lose their hard-earned money. The frequent use of celebrities in many of these advertisements make them more attractive to consumers, and consumers tend to trust their heroes and role models blindly.”

The idea of framing specific guidelines for the advertisement of such games is to inform advertisers as well as members of the public what criteria will be uses to scrutinise advertisements against which we complaints have been received, thereby making the industry safer and more transparent.

As per a recent KPMG study, online gaming grew 45 per cent in FY20 with the user base surpassing 365 million by March 2020 on real-money games. The card-based and fantasy segments both achieved strong traction. As India is a mobile-first country, more than 90 per cent of online gamers play games on their phones. The online gaming market, worth more than $500 million now, could be worth $1.1 billion by 2021. In 2019, around 5.6 billion mobile gaming apps were downloaded in India – the highest in the world and representing nearly 13 per cent of gaming apps globally. Internet penetration in India is 31 per cent and KMPG expects it to reach 53 per cent by 2021 – which would give over 700 million people access to the internet and its wealth of gaming options.

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