The British Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has ruled that the companies behind Moshi Monsters and Bin Weevils, two massively popular children's gaming sites, effectively bullied kids into buying subscription memberships with overly aggressive advertisements. The companies' adverts, the ASA claims, were in direct violation of CAP codes pertaining to social responsibility, direct exhortation, and the protection of parental authority.
Moshi Monsters and Bin Weevils, for the unfamiliar, are basically like a cross between the once-gargantuan Neopets and Pokémon with a dash of Happy Tree Friends thrown in for good measure.
The games have spawned physical toys, television specials, and even movies—all designed to drive kids onto the sites where year long memberships can cost anywhere from $39.95 to $49.95. Both platforms advertise themselves as being free, but according to the ASA, they were found to be basically "commanding" children to hand over their parents' cash rather than compelling them with an engaging experience.
"[T]he descriptions of the benefits contained phrases such as 'The Super Moshis need YOU' and 'Members are going to be super popular,'" the ASA's investigation into Mind Candy, Moshi Monsters's parent company, explained. "[W]e considered that these put pressure on young players to purchase the subscription that would allow them to take part in this aspect of the game."
55 Pixels, the company that produces Bin Weevils, fared a bit better by the ASA's assessment, steering clear of using emotional manipulation to goad children into buying subscriptions and welcoming the Agency's suggestion that it better explain the reasoning behind buying into its premium service.
"BinWeevils stated that they benchmarked their approach against other leading children's massively multiplayer online games, and provided screenshots from other games using a range of approaches," the ASA explained. "They stated that they did not realize their approach was potentially in breach of the CAP Code and that since receiving the complaint they had revised the ads to state 'About Membership.'"