December 7, 2022
( CARY, N.C. ) —Players of the mobile app “Game of Thrones: Conquest” (“GOTC”), based on the popular HBO series, are suing Warner Bros. Entertainment for false advertising on in-game purchases. The plaintiffs consist of players allegedly deceived by “time-limited bonuses” of the game’s direct marketing.
“GOTC” is a “freemium” mobile game, which is free-to-play but includes in-app purchases that impact gameplay. The objective is to build a base, or “keep,” and fortify it against opposing players. In-app purchases include gold, building materials, crafting materials, and other resources used for fortification.
The lawsuit comes at a time when concerns over heavily monetized video games have reached all-time highs—from expensive in-game cosmetics to the gambling mechanics inherent in loot boxes—micro-transactions continue to turn consumers away from games that overly rely on them.
According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of California in May, “Game of Thrones: Conquest” (‘GOTC’) advertised these virtual items at discounted prices but the advertised ‘original price’ did not reflect the market retail pricing for such items.” Furthermore, the Federal Trade Commission describes these false former pricing schemes as deceptive.
The complaint states that California statutory and regulatory law expressly prohibits this form of advertising. The plaintiffs are seeking restitution, injunctive relief, and punitive damages for the defendant for failing to disclose the truth about its discounted and original pricing.
The 45-page complaint explains that “GOTC” spent 105 weeks as one of the top 25 highest-grossing applications on Apple’s App Store and was the number three highest- grossing strategy game across both Apple and Android devices.
The complaint targets advertisements for in-game micro-transactions. The plaintiffs say Warner Bros. employed “underhanded tactics” leading players to believe, for instance, that certain sets of “GOTC” digital products, such as gold and crafting materials, were available only for a limited time. Upgrades available for purchase range in price according to the tier, which become more expensive the higher you go. Prices for upgrades range from $0.99 and $4.99 to $19.99 and $99.99 for various crafting materials.
These same items, according to the complaint, have been discounted for months. Some of the in-game ads included in the complaint showed a pre-discounted price with a strike through it, but the plaintiffs claim the original pricing that these ads referenced were fabricated. The plaintiffs are seeking injunctive and declaratory relief from Warner Bros., as well as damages according to the complaint.
The Click reached out to Warner Bros. Entertainment for comment on the suit, but did not receive a reply.
Charissa Keebaugh, one of the plaintiffs, spoke with Vice about the tight-knit community she found while playing “GOTC.” What started off as a supportive and lighthearted space quickly turned into constant pressure to “carry her weight” and start “spending money on the game,” she said in her interview.
The game relies on members of the Allegiance, or group of active players, to contribute resources to fortify their keeps. The player-versus-player aspect of the game keeps kingdoms constantly under pressure and requires having resources that can add up if purchased in-game. This pressure can result in excess purchases of upgrades from the in-game store, and in another player’s case meant spending “as much as $1,000 a day.”
The complaint raises questions about the business model of micro-transactions and how frequently they lean on pressuring players to buy items “before it’s too late.”