/ Technology

Are video game ads misleading us too often?

Final Fantasy XIII characters

Video game companies seem happy to hoodwink us over their products. The latest culprit is Final Fantasy creator Square Enix, who has just had their advertisement banned for being misleading.

Final Fantasy XIII, the latest entry in the award-winning series from Japanese game developer and publisher Square Enix, has been caught out for deceiving consumers.

The game released on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3 to record sales in March, but a deal was struck up to advertise the Xbox 360 version only. There was only one ickle problem – the ad’s footage came from the PS3.

Final airing for fantasy ad

At first, you’d think this wasn’t much of a problem – but there had already been much furore over the Xbox 360 version of the game not being up to par. The PS3 version came out on top with a higher resolution (thus ‘sharper’) and was generally higher quality.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received just one complaint about this misleading advert, but decided to investigate. They agreed that there was a ‘discernible difference in the picture quality’ and banned the ad outright for exaggerating the quality of the Xbox 360 game.

Square Enix’s response was that the ad didn’t actually contain any gameplay footage – a pet peeve of mine. This is a sorry excuse when even the game’s cutscenes were lower quality on the Xbox 360 (the result of poorly porting the game from the PS3’s Blu-ray disc to the Xbox 360’s DVDs).

Stop misleading us with video game ads

This is the latest in a string of video games that have been accused of misadvertising. The most sickening was a Tiger Woods golfing game being advertised for the Nintendo Wii with Xbox 360 footage. The discrepancy between the graphics on these two consoles is so great that I could only interpret it as outright deception.

Personally, I’m fed up with seeing pre-rendered footage on video game adverts – i.e. footage that you can’t actually play when you take the game home. When I see highly impressive footage of Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario jumping over hurdles, and go home to boxy characters on my Wii, I’m not best pleased.

Yes, you won’t find me fooled by these ads (at least I’d like to think I won’t be) but I can see many could be – albeit the small print says the trailer isn’t in-game. Even pictures of games in magazines, which look better than the game you’ll buy (creatively named as ‘bullshots’) grind my gears.

In the end, why can’t video game companies simply show us what we’re actually buying? After seeing a live-action trailer for Avatar, you’d be a little bit disappointed if you turned up to an Avatar cartoon at the cinema. Wouldn’t you?


This is something that’s annoyed me for a very long time- specifically, when the first PS1 adverts were on the telly. They never show gameplay footage, just the pre-rendered cutscenes, etc. Since I know about what these games look like in reality compared to the footage played in the ads, it’s easy to see past, but for someone like my mother, it’s incredibly misleading.

Still, I don’t think it’s unique to this industry. Endless “health” products and hair things use fake science in their ads, and stupid buzzphrases like “wrinkles appear reduced” and “most women say” which only exist to manipulate.

Advertising is not a business I associate with morals, so although I hope that practices like this will end, I know they won’t.

Completely agree – I’ve found the majority of games only show a passing resemblance to the adverts – But this is also true of virtually everything advertised.

It is always annoying to see the disclaimers written in tiny letters at the bottom of the presentations – such as “enhanced post production” or “out of 215 people 55% said it made a difference”.

Jeremy says:
19 August 2010

I have a slightly different take on this.

Since you draw the film comparison, it occurs to me that this sort of thing (on some level) already happens in movie ads — specifically comedies. I often find myself lured into a movie by really funny commercials or trailers, and find out at the movie that those really were the funniest parts (or the only funny parts) of a movie. One of the consequences of this is that I have a real chip on my shoulder about comedies.

One of the consequences of video games’ past with CG trailers is that the consumer public is very wary of whether something represents “in-game” footage. On Twitter, for example, one game developer recently said of a flashy new trailer that he “hated” CG trailers and that they’re a “waste of time and money.” I think everyone shares a degree of that cynicism.

By the same token, great CGI trailers (such as The Old Republic or DC Universe Online, whose gameplay almost CERTAINLY will not look anything like the incredible promos) are also “fun” for people, and still have value for generating excitement and buzz.

As time goes on, in-engine cutscenes are becoming much more common. Technology is closing the gap on this sort of thing significantly. We’ve come a long way from Final Fantasy 7 or 8’s cutscenes-vs-gameplay factor.

I’m not saying it’s right of a company to show one “build” of footage and let it represent multiple SKUs, slight though the differences may be. But the public seems to be much more savvy about this, and there are many resources available for users to draw their own conclusions.

Really, I think the problem is becoming less pronounced, not more. If the ASA were going to stamp out the practice entirely, they missed the chance long ago.

Tim Ingham says:
19 August 2010

Fair point Patrick, but allow me to play devil’s advocate. Much more so than film, video games are about what you ‘feel’. Half of the interaction with what’s on screen is in your mind’s eye. FMVs, bullshots etc. could be argued to give you a heart-fluttering insight into how you’ll perceive a game as you waggle you analogue stick. Perversely, games often feel like they look better than they actually do during play – as anyone who owned a bygone console will be able to attest. S’all about imagination enhancing the experience; placing yourself in the world – something hard to capture in a Corrie ad break.

This has been going on since the early days of home computing, and it does seem rather disappointing that it’s still happening. I remember old cassette boxes for home versions of games like Double Dragon and Golden Axe proudly displaying screen shots from the arcade version, and loading up these games for the first time on your beloved Commodore 64 always seemed a disappointment because of it.

Most recently, I feel that the Kinect press movies have been slightly mis-leading. The promos showed people playing in big groups, sitting on the sofa and scanning their household objects to use in-game. It’s now being reported that only two people can play on the system at the same, you can’t play it sitting down, and it can’t scan objects. Whilst these were very early promos of the product, they do paint a more appealing picture than the Kinect can deliver.

I think the ASA needs to go a bit further than it currently does. Any footage from pre-rendered cut scenes has to be labelled as not being in-game under their rules. Why not apply the same to which format the content is being shown on?

Having said this, the manufacturers really need to understand that in this day and age, they are simply not going to get away with passing off one format as another. There will be someone out there willing to count every pixel and compare all the formats, and it seems a little naïve of these companies to believe they won’t be found out!

Jeremy says:
19 August 2010

If the proposition of this article is “Do we want honesty in advertising?” then the answer is most definitely yes. If it’s more a question of whether video game ads are more misleading than those of other sorts of products, I don’t know I’m on board with the supposition.

How do we classify ads where a happy family is sitting together on the couch, clapping and laughing at Eye Pets or some such thing? The advertiser wants the viewer to believe that their product will cause outbursts of happiness in the lucky owners. No disclaimer of “Not a real family” or “May not reflect actual exhuberance” required. Will my manly bath gel REALLY end me up on a motorcycle or a horse? Can I afford to miss that chance??

Bait and switch tactics are absolutely wrong, but if someone shows you a cutscene that has 576 horizontal pixels versus 720 horizontal pixels, is it really egregious? What if a console game’s screenshot has a mouse cursor on it? What if one platform suffers frame rate stutters during lighting blooms, or is missing an exclusive multiplayer mode due to some publishing deal? What about all those ads that list every single platform, but show only one set of footage?

In my opinion, ASA has done the right thing in this instance. My thoughts are more on the broader implications of the article, in which I feel there’s more inherent “gray area” than intentional misrepresentation.

KingNintendoFanboy says:
19 August 2010

I agree. The footage should be from the correct version.

To be honest – I’ve sold off all my PC games – except for Flight Simulator only because the simulations are actually similar to flying characteristics of many planes – The graphics are nowhere as good as “real life” but then nor were the graphics in the two real flight simulators I’ve used.

I still use my Nintendo DS but again not for graphics but ‘intellectual’ content.

phillip says:
20 December 2016

What annoys me the most is that games these days are so good looking that pre rendered adverts are unnecessary now. They are just wasting money when showing the almost as beautiful game would cost nothing and make people trust them more. Pre rendered adverts these days only make sense for top down android games. Oh and sorry for this comments being about six years late.