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Mobile gaming companies using sexual ads to attract new users

Mobile gaming companies are increasingly using misleading and sexualised advertising to acquire new users amid a wider slowdown in demand within the games industry.

The UK’s advertising regulator has hit out at a new trend in gaming ads that display sexist and non-consensual sexual imagery and often target vulnerable adults and children.

“This is a newer issue for us to look at,” said James Craig, senior regulatory policy executive at the Advertising Standards Authority. “We take any complaints on this very seriously because of the huge problems we’ve seen [so far]”.

This month the ASA banned an advert shown within the mobile game Angry Birds 2, which included an animated woman playing pool in a denim shirt that exposed her breasts to promote the game Infinity 8 Ball. Rovio, which makes Angry Birds 2, said the ad violated their policies and had appeared in error. Playorcas, the developers of Infinity 8 Ball, did not respond to the ASA or the Financial Times.

Other recent ads banned included depictions of sexual violence, encouraging users to “slap” or “undress” characters without consent.

The rise in this trend comes as the broader games sector has been hit with weakening sales and engagement in recent months as well as a decline in advertising spending. Demand has fallen — following a surge during the pandemic — as players return to real-world pursuits and cut back their spending amid rising inflationary pressures.

So-called “hyper-casual” games, which represent a huge part of the mobile-games market, are particularly vulnerable to falling advertising spend. They are free, simple games that hold users’ attention for a few minutes each session, relying on a high churn rate of users acquired through online advertising in other games or social networks like Facebook or Instagram. Hyper-casual games generate revenue mainly by displaying ads to users once they have downloaded the app.

Chart showing that global consumer spending on mobile games has dropped this year. Estimated spending (€billion) for Google Play and the App Store for the first quarter of the year in 2021 and 2022. Figures show a minus 14.8 percent drop in spending for Google Play and a  minus 0.81 percent drop for the App Store.

“Often the ads used for these games are far more sophisticated than the actual gameplay. They tend to contain something with shock value that will make someone stop and pay attention, whether that’s a disturbing, nonsensical narrative or a scantily clad woman,” said Louise Shorthouse, a senior games analyst at Ampere Analysis.

“Getting a consumer within the game can be enough for them to profit. They simply need eyeballs, not wallets,” she added.

Mobile games companies have previously fallen foul of the ASA for advertising gameplay that does not represent the actual experience when users download the game. But this new and explicit category of ads is a bigger concern because of the harmful tropes they perpetuate, said ASA’s Craig.

It comes as data shows that consumers are less willing to pay for mobile games, with spending dropping steadily this year. Casual games drive the bulk of mobile game in-app advertising revenue, amounting to over 60 per cent of the sector in 2021, according to games analysts Omdia.

In September, Google will roll out new guidelines on in-game ads, including limiting the amount of time an ad can be shown before users can click out. Apple has already limited tracking capabilities for apps, putting a further squeeze on the ability of companies to serve targeted advertising.

“If you can’t target and your click-through rates have changed, you get more nefarious players and methods,” said Andrew Uerkwitz, an analyst at Jefferies.

Additional reporting by Anna Gross in London

hello, I am Flora Khan and i work journalist in allnewshouse website i work in other sites like forbes and washington post with 5 years in experience.

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