Thursday, April 05, 2007

Pushing the Boundaries of Advertising, Game-Style

You've probably played a game where you've seen "143 Awesome Levels" stickered on the game case, pictures of a character posing with an in-game weapon you'd simply love to equip, or a stage that catches your eye... only to load the game to see 12 stages available, no cool weapons, or no awesome-looking level.

It's typical gaming fare. Game developers lure you in with the awesome eye candy expecting you'll work through the drudge to get it. However, an article on Game Stooge brings up a new legal implication of this kind of "shady" advertising: what if it's illegal?

Well, the target du jour is Guitar Hero II, which advertised a whopping 70 songs in its game, only to have 30 available immediately. Much legal conjecture and similes are made by Game Stooge, but the question remains: is it illegal for a game to advertise a feature that requires a high amount of skill/time to unlock?

Well, the answer... isn't so clear. There's no past cases to look to for precedent, but one can assume that since the content is available on the product (even if it's not available from the point you open it), it's not "illegal" to say the content's there.

Here's 2 examples:

  1. Mario Bros. DS advertises being able to play Mario and Luigi for all its levels. You can only play Mario initially, but after beating the game once through, you can play as Luigi. This is legal.
  2. Mario Bros. DS advertises being able to play Mario and Luigi for all its levels. There is no possible way to obtain Luigi, since he was not coded into the game in a way you could obtain him. This is illegal.

Of course, reasonableness must be taken into account. Advertising explicitly that Mario and Luigi will be playable from "the time you open the box" means you better be able to play them the second the game begins. More loosely, having to work 100 hours to play Luigi (when it's advertised as a main selling point) might also stretch the boundaries of legality.

The resounding message is that games can only advertise on their boxes what is obtainable in them. It doesn't matter if it's immediate, eventual, or after a horrendously long unlocking session; the fact is, it's there.

The Law of the Game also ventures to explain this topic with more legal terminology and reasoning, citing FTC points and comparing the validity of comparing game advertisements to other forms.

This is an interesting topic that'll soon find its way to a courtroom, I presume. Someone out there is going to want to play a song, only to find out it takes 10 hours to get it. Then we'll have a definitive answer.

(This entry was cross-posted to GIW.)

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