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 ;)

24 Comments

  1. SMGreer says:

    Not sure how the headline wasn’t “Pip saves the day…again!”

    • April March says:

      “Pip saved a day a few months ago and none of you believed her.”

  2. Premium User Badge

    Neurotic says:

    “clusterpickle” added to my Word spelling checker.

    • MiniMatt says:

      Can we get a ruling on “clusterkerfuffle”? Does that rank as more or less calamitous than a clusterpickle?

  3. Lewis Rachman says:

    Next step is to take action on misleading marketing that makes you believe you’re buying a full game when you actually have double the original price to get all the DLCs. The same as the “In-app purchases” tag on the Play Store basically.

    • phuzz says:

      Are you talking about Bioware by any chance?
      Mass Effect 2 has been down to £3.74 on Steam at one point (it’s easy to find for £9.99).
      If you want to buy all the story DLC (none of the weapon or appearance packs, just story) it’ll cost you 2480 Bioware points, which cost £6 for 800 (or bizarrely £13 for 1600), so that’s £24 on points (because it’s not a round 2,400 you have to buy more), on a game that cost six times less than that.
      ME3 is even worse, it’s 4000 points for all the story DLC, so £30 for a game that’s been £2.50 in sales.

      I wouldn’t mind as much, but some of that DLC is basically essential to understand wtf the story is talking about later on.

      • dysomniak says:

        Heh, yeah I played through “borrowed” versions of all three years ago (thought the ending of 3 was basically alright, for the record) and bought the “trilogy” for about $11 on Origin to make up for it it and hopefully replay the series, but holy shit is that DLC expensive.

    • Archonsod says:

      Pretty sure it’s pretty easy to defend by pointing out “full game” does not preclude DLC. Otherwise I’d also like them to take up with McDonald’s the fact that when I pay for a “meal” it doesn’t include dessert.

  4. Rich says:

    SNAIARP: situation normal, all in a right pickle.

  5. go4brendon says:

    I think you should do a story on steam marketplace and micro transactions. I think the legality of steam ‘charging’ users for transactions of buying/selling stuff in a “virtual marketplace” then not allowing users to ‘transfer that money back’ into their own bank account is highly questionable and could be challenged on a legal basis. Definantley worth doing research into and writing an article about.

    • ButteringSundays says:

      “… is highly questionable and could be challenged on a legal basis. ”

      We traditionally follow baseless, irrational presumptions like this with ‘IANAL’.

  6. trjp says:

    I think you need to be clearer about what your problem is because you seem to just be lashing out at ‘stuff’??

    Steam gives away stuff you can ‘sell’ to other people for ‘Steam Money’ – you can then spend ‘Steam Money’ on Steam. Steam also sells ‘Steam Money’ for people who want to do that.

    It’s unusual (and a mistake imo) that they use ‘real currency’ values ($, £, EU etc.) for ‘Steam Money’ – but it’s still ‘Steam Money’ and not ‘real money’.

    So, where’s the issue again? You want to change ‘Steam Money’ into ‘real money’? No law requires they offer that anymore than you can’t take unopened food back to the store…!??

    I’m not sure what your problem is but I’m pretty sure it’s not illegal (wheras what Valve/Rockstar did was clearly shady)

    • trjp says:

      That SHOULD be a reply to the post above of course…

    • onodera says:

      You can’t take unopened food or medicine back to the store, because they are perishables. “Steam Money” is basically a gift card. Some stores allow you to return gift cards, some don’t.

  7. Tim James says:

    *shrug*

  8. GamesBrit says:

    About time someone got onto their case for this. I was incredibly pissed off when I had waited months for the steam sale only for it to be a whole £1 off.

    So many people think Rockstar are so great, that they make fantastic games and their ability for satire is completely on point. As far as I’m concerned they’re just as shitty as Ubisoft and EA and deserve all the shit they both get.

    The game is fun and big, nothing much else apart from that. I enjoy it but it isn’t one of the best games ever by any stretch. People need to stop blindly following Rockstar as if they are the greatest developers in the world because, if not anything else, their business practice is shitty.

  9. soopytwist says:

    Uh? Last time I looked it was 33% off, that’s £26.79 (down from £39.99) and that £26.79 is what I paid for… for GTA V and nothing else.

    This story makes no sense.

    • soopytwist says:

      Oh, my mistake. That was the summer sale. The 33% off was last week.

  10. gbrading says:

    Good. It’s a shame the ASA can’t fine Steam/Rockstar for this but nonetheless it’s good that it has been looked at.

  11. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Great, next can they have a go at those “80% off!” sales that then have none of the games pictured in the advert actually at 80% off, just some decade old indie flop. Seems to be a special preserve of online game retailers.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      I guess you don’t see much else in the shops/online/anywhere then?

      It’s pretty much everywhere. I just realised I may have been duped at the local Subway as the sandwich is “cheaper” with a drink… wait a second!

      • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

        I know everyone tries it on, but I really do think games retailers are worse for it though. Just checked my junk mail for an example and only had to go to yesterday: sales e-mail from Gamersgate saying 40% off GTA V and 45% off the GTA V + Ingame cash bundle. Click on it to go to the website and the deals are actually 33% and 40% respectively. They literally lie. I know all industries are misleading on deals but online games retailers seem to have a particular lawlessness about advertising deals. Probably cause they can turn them on, off and change them so quickly and easily they’re gone before anyone really stops to pick them up on it.

  12. Baines says:

    Too bad the case was only against Rockstar over GTA5, because that pretty much guaranteed that nothing would happen even if it was found to be misleading pricing.

    That Steam sale had several rather iffy situations, and Valve itself was involved in more than one of them. There were one or two promoted daily deals that maintained the same discount as the regular sale deal, with the ARK devs saying that Valve opposed their increasing the discount for their daily deal appearance. There was also Valve telling the Age of Decadence devs to raise their base price and then “discount” it for the duration of the sale, when the AoD devs had simply wanted to run a “Buy our game now before the price increases in two weeks” type of promotion. There was the other company that has a record of increasing its base prices for sales so as to offer “discounts”, which got caught before the sale even started by wary consumers mining the Steam database. (That company abandoned its plan that time with a last minute, potentially spiteful, edit to its deal.) And add to all that the questions of validity that people have held about Steam’s sale events…

  13. racccoon says:

    It should be.. a 1 million dollar fine!!