After ASCI’s annual complaints report showed that the real-money gaming (RMG) industry surpassed the education sector to emerge as the most violative, moving from fifth to first place, gaming industry players are now calling upon the self-regulatory body to understand different models instead of putting legal online gaming companies and offshore and illegal betting companies in the same bracket.
As per the report, 92% of gaming advertisements reviewed by ASCI for FY 2022–23 did not adhere to the ad guidelines for RMG and failed to inform consumers about the risks of financial loss and addiction.
The sector also gained the dubious distinction of being the least complaint, with only 50% of ads being modified voluntarily after they have been called out.
As the popularity of real-money gaming continues to grow, industry players stated that marketers should tap into its potential while upholding their integrity.
Illegal offshore gambling's toll on the online gaming industry
Jaya Chahar, Founder and CEO, TFG, said that ASCI’s Annual Complaints report has stated RMG advertisements to be the most violative and the majority of this is due to the increased advertisement by illegal betting platforms trying to lure Indians. These betting platforms, whose source of fund also remain unknown, pay massive fees to celebrities from Bollywood, sports and even ex-cricketers.
“TFG, as a new fantasy gaming platform, complies with ASCI guidelines for advertising. Our platform ensures all disclaimers about fantasy gaming being addictive and containing financial elements, therefore, urging users to make informed choices and play responsibly. As a platform owned by an Indian cricketer (Deepak Chahar), we have high credibility with users and have to follow every guideline laid down by the government authorities,” she added.
The ratio of rectified ads stands at only 50% as many of the offshore betting sites which run them are based outside India and are not afraid of the government’s actions, Chahar said. “Unfortunately, the digital world is beyond physical boundaries and it is very difficult to control the inflow or outflow of content.”
“Our platform has a grievance officer and a customer support system where violations (if any ever) can be reported by any authority or users. Our compliance and other policies too are updated every month as per any new addition to these guidelines and are also displayed to the end users on the app,” she stated.
Chahar said that fantasy gaming platforms in general suffer due to offshore betting sites. Unfortunately, this also confuses users in differentiating between fantasy gaming and gambling. She added that this is a perception issue, even though there is a Supreme Court ruling stating that fantasy gaming is a game of skill.
Saumya Singh Rathore, Co-Founder at WinZO Games, said that over the last 12 months, the central government has made a tremendous effort to protect and grow online gaming by making a clear distinction between gaming and illegal offshore betting/ gambling apps.
MeiTY notified the IT Rules to include online gaming as an intermediary, providing a safe harbour to legally run businesses.
Moreover, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs has made policy changes and driven those through the I&B Ministry to further these distinctions and protect consumers from offshore betting and gambling products pushed through the internet.
Unfortunately, when these illegal offshore betting and gambling products are visible, the online gaming industry suffers significantly due to the misconstrued association, Rathore added.
ASCI’s statements hurt online gaming industry's efforts to abide by law
Rathore said ASCI’s statements hurt the online gaming industry's efforts to abide by the laws. As per her, it's critical for ASCI to understand different models to make more qualified, informed, and proactive initiatives to curb illegal businesses from advertising on all channels - including newspapers, autorickshaws, housing societies, or OOH.
“We have been working very closely with ASCI to help appreciate the differences in models. ASCI has often asked to bring down Instagram posts of, for example, a simple Father’s Day post promoting a free product. We have humbly appealed to those in position for their understanding and consideration. It is a nascent stage for an industry that has the potential to contribute massively to the trillion-dollar economy. An innovation-friendly collaborative approach, where possibilities are encouraged without rigid boundaries, would go a long way in strengthening the ecosystem,” she added.
Meanwhile, Chahar said, “The ASCI guidelines are quite clear and transparent such as the truthful and honest representation of your product/service, fair in competition, non-offensive to the public and against harmful products/situations. We follow very strict due diligence on our communication plans across channels.”
Marketers must capitalise on RMG’s popularity without compromising on integrity
Sharing his thoughts on the real-money gaming industry emerging as the most violative sector, Sahil Chopra, CEO, iCubesWire, said this is a challenge that can’t be ignored any further as the rise of the RMG industry has also come with the highest number of ad guidelines violations.
“As a result, maintaining ethical standards has become more critical than ever. The RMG industry has immense potential for brands and marketers must capitalise on its popularity without compromising on integrity,” he added.
Chopra said that digital agencies should prioritise understanding advertising guidelines for the RMG industry.
“Understanding and complying with the advertising standards is the first step towards steering clear of violations. Moreover, brands and marketers must take proactive measures to ensure consumer safety and clear messaging in ad campaigns, refraining from any misleading claims,” he added.
Manesh Swamy, Chief Creative Officer, LS Digital, said, “It was surprising for sure, that in the last year, RMG advertisers did not adhere to the ASCI guidelines, especially in the digital medium and failed to inform consumers about the risks of financial loss and addiction. This definitely raises concerns around online consumer safety and trust.”
Swamy added, “Keeping the consumer in the centre, it’s our responsibility as an industry to have stricter guard rails that should be honoured by all the brand custodians so we win back the trust of the consumer. Also, focus more on sharpening guidelines for celebrities and influencers so that they don’t unintentionally mislead consumers via their communication.”
Shradha Agarwal, Co-Founder & CEO, Grapes, said that by its very format, the RMB industry is dependent on people’s feeling of fun and enjoyment being amplified by adding the opportunity of winning money. But it can soon become addictive and the users need to be made well aware of such possibilities.
"This is where most players in this sector are seen violating the guidelines, as such disclaimers don’t present the most lucrative and engaging picture to the users. Here, a balanced approach needs to be cracked, one which allows the gaming platforms to impactfully present their proposition, but not at the expense of delivering complete information to the audience," Agarwal stated.
Furthermore, she went on to say, "More than anything else, the data from ASCI’s recent report highlights the importance we, at large, still need to give to responsible gaming practices."
RMG should be treated as separate domain altogether to avoid confusion
Rohit Agarwal, Founder and Director, Alpha Zegus, the next-gen marketing agency specialising in the domains of gaming and lifestyle, said that it's not the gaming industry as a whole that's receiving complaints - it's majorly the RMG segment within gaming that's making the headlines for the wrong reasons.
“RMG marketing is quite complex, with far too many regulations to ensure the audience is not misguided in any way. With so many new RMG brands coming into the market each month, it takes a while for them to understand all these regulations and implement them. RMG should be treated as a separate domain altogether to avoid this confusion,” he added.
Furthermore, he said that RMG brands should ideally be transparent on how their platforms work, and how a user's monetary success/loss depends on several factors. They should not over-glamorise their marketing by showing only the success side of things but also be honest about the risks that a user holds and promote responsible gaming.
Earlier, the government observed that the ‘misleading’ ads of online betting websites and platforms, which prima facie appear to be violative of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 were once predominant in print, electronic and online media, but recently have shifted to outdoor media for luring the gullible masses.’
Following this, the I&B Ministry recently issued an advisory asking for appropriate action against them by state governments.