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Steam's GTA V Sale Ad "Misleading" Says UK Authority

The Advertising Standards Agency in the UK has upheld a complaint against the Valve Corporation over a misleading Grand Theft Auto V [official site] ad during the Steam Summer Sale.

The kerfuffle is over advertising that suggested GTA V had been discounted by 25% (from £51.98 to £38.98) when in fact it was a bundle featuring GTA V which had been discounted.

I wrote an in-depth explanation of how much of a mess the various options and offers were at the time but the subject of this complaint was the 25% reduction one.

Here’s a screenshot I took at the time (it’s from the Steam client rather than the website):

What it implied to me (and others) at the time was that the game itself was discounted by 25% when it was actually a bundle involving a cash card.

Complaints that the “before” price on GTA V (and Wolfenstein: The New Order) had been inflated to make a small reduction sound more impressive were dismissed but the the confusion between the GTA V bundle deal and the GTA V standalone game was enough that the misleading savings claims complaint was upheld.

The ruling describes Valve’s response:

“The stand-alone Grand Theft Auto game, which normally sold for £39.99, was not reduced. However, the claims that stated it was £38.98, with a saving of 25%, had appeared on the website in error for around three hours at the start of the sale. They said the price claims were the same as those for a separate Grand Theft Auto bundle, which was included in the sale. Because that type of bundle had not been offered before, their software had mislabelled the stand-alone game. They had removed the claims related to the game once they became aware of the error.”

Looking back over what happened, at the beginning of the sale you couldn’t even actually buy GTA V outside the bundle. Going to the game’s page you’d just see all this ballyhoo about 25% off but no way of jettisoning the cash card. The game was added back in as a standalone after a short while but there were still panels on the Summer Sale displays and in bundle breakdowns (like the screenshot further up this post and the one just below this paragraph) which implied the game itself was 25% off rather than the bundle.

It was a total clusterpickle.

Aaaaand here’s the full ruling:

“We noted the claims related to the Grand Theft Auto game had appeared in error for around a three-hour period and that the item was not included in the promotion. While we acknowledged that the claims had been duplicated, and were intended to relate only to a separate product bundle, we noted the two items appeared side-by-side, which we considered consumers were likely to understand to mean that both the game and the bundle were included in the sale.

“We noted the claims for the game stated that consumers could make a saving of 25% on the previous price of £51.98, which we considered would be understood to represent a genuine saving against the usual selling price of the product at the time the ad appeared. However, we understood that was not the case and it had instead been sold by Steam at £39.99, rather than £51.98, since the date of its launch. Because a 25% saving was not available on the usual selling price of the product at the time the ad appeared, as claimed, we concluded that it was misleading.”

But what does this actually mean?

The ASA is more about ensuring compliance with codes than issuing punishments. For repeat offenders there are other organisation to which the ASA can refer the matter if fining or legal action is to be brought. But the ASA’s own clout hinges around bad publicity – companies being listed as non-compliant on the ASA’s website, the ASA asking search websites to remove paid-for ads that lead consumers to misleading marketing, or launching an AdWords campaign against a business to warn consumers about your services.

But that only happens in extreme circumstances. The verdict I seem to read most often on upheld claims is that the ad mustn’t appear any more in its current form and the organisation mustn’t do this sort of thing again. That’s what’s happened here too::

The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Steam to ensure their future savings claims did not mislead about the benefits available.

So basically they’ve told Steam not to use the ad again (although the sale has been over for months) and to adhere to advertising standards guidelines in future.

Oh, and I was right about the misleading pricing. Let’s not forget that crucial observation ;)

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Philippa Warr

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