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Advertising Standards Authority acts on sexist mobile phone ads

The UKs Advertising Standards Authority has found several mobile phone game adverts likely to cause “serious or widespread offence” due to harmful gender stereotypes.

An advert for one game, Refantasia: Charm and Conquer, is described as having featured an “anime-style image of a young woman in a cage” in shackles and with torn clothing, which was singled out for particular criticism.

Captions referenced “my master” and were accompanied by text which described the person as a “little girl”. The ASA judged the character as being someone under 18 represented in a sexual manner.

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In response, Refantasias developer Oasis Games said it was a Chinese company which published games internationally, and had conducted an investigation which “revealed a disconnect between their marketing team and their localisation team” which it had now “taken action to address”.

The app icon for Refantasia: Charm and Conquer.
The app icon for Refantasia: Charm and Conquer.

The company apologised for the advert, which appeared on Twitter. As for Twitter, it said it had been unable to locate the advert as it was a self-promoted tweet which was subsequently removed, and did not comment further.

Another ad, this time for a game titled “Kings Throne: Game of Conquest”, featured two women in lingerie acting as quiz show hosts, stood next to words with missing letters such as “D_CK”.

A third, for “Airline Commander: Flight Game”, featured a video of the porn actress Mia Malkova in a “revealing cowboy outfit” encouraging users to download the game and play.

In all cases, the ASA ruled that the adverts could not appear again, with developers of said games warned not to feature sexist stereotypes which objectified and sexualised women.

“Todays ASA rulings include several decisions on game studios using sexualised ads to attract new users,” Harbottle & Lewis games lawyer Kostyantyn Lobov told Eurogamer today. “The ASA has recently criticised mobile game companies for using ads of this sort (or allowing them to appear within their games), which objectify women and perpetuate harmful tropes.

“Occasionally, the ASA will focus on a particular issue or sector (or a combination of both) and issue a flurry of decisions in a short space of time. This is what we are seeing at the moment, with these rulings and the recent rulings against Higgs Technology and an Infinity 8 Ball ad shown in Angry Birds 2.

“The mobile games space is notoriously competitive, but at the same time can be incredibly lucrative. Mobile game development tends to have a much faster turnaround, and whether a game lives or dies depends entirely on how many users it can acquire in a short space of time, while spending as little money as possible. In that kind of environment, its perhaps unsurprising that ads like these sometimes crop up. When that happens, it can result in unwanted media attention and PR, both for the studio and the industry as a whole.”

Each week the ASA publishes a list of cases where it has made a formal ruling on adverts it has found to have broken the rules.

Equally as interesting, though more opaque, is a list of well-known companies with which it has “informally resolved” issues – usually as said companies have quietly agreed to change or pull offending adverts before a formal investigation takes place.

In the past week, this list includes Samsung, Currys Group, Boohoo, British Gas, B&M and Carlsberg, among a number of others.

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