False Advertising in Video Games – Aliens, SimCity and Your Wallet

Alien terrorizes a city
This article will tell you all about the secret ways to legally get any game you want for free.

…Okay, not really. See what I did there? That’s called “false advertising,” and it seems to be a big problem in the gaming industry. Whether it’s a legal problem that will rescue your money from the clutches of those who have wronged you is a different question, but cases accusing game makers of false advertising have certainly become more visible than ever before.

It’s becoming much more popular for game companies to promise the world and deliver New Jersey.

Most of you reading this website have heard some complaints about Alien: Colonial Marines and SimCity. More still probably heard gripes about the problematic launches of SimCity, Diablo III, and Battlefield 4. The list goes on and on, and it’s becoming much more popular for game companies to promise the world and deliver New Jersey. (Shots fired, Jersey.)

First, let’s take a closer look at some of the famous cases that caused online mobs to form. SimCity was a game that I was personally very excited for, which wound up being very disappointing. Launch day was met with an endless list of bugs, downed servers, and the game’s Internet connection requirement (which does not prevent piracy and may be the topic of a future Bar Games article), meaning I couldn’t do much with my product except cry over it. It’s worth mentioning that the game was so broken at launch, Amazon started offering refunds to those who purchased Sim City through its online store. EA did not.

Diablo III was another case of players claiming false advertising on the part of developer Blizzard. Not only was the game’s launch pretty terrible, it also promised player-versus-player combat and never delivered. The Real Money Auction House also didn’t work as promised and turned out to be a bit more game-breaking than Blizzard claimed.

Maybe the most well-known of recent examples is Aliens: Colonial Marines, which was a far different game than what was shown at E3 and PAX East. While it’s arguable whether or not that is “advertising,” it’s clear it reached enough people and made its way around the internet substantially enough that most courts would agree it is. Gearbox shipped a game with worse graphics, a different play style, and less features than advertised, prompting players to file a class action lawsuit against developer Gearbox and publisher Sega. As I write this article, news is actually breaking about this case, as Sega has just offered $1.25 million to settle. Gearbox, however, will continue to defend itself in court. So it appears Sega didn’t want to deal with this headache, and the consumers suing them will get their money back for the game and nothing more. (The attorneys made over $300,000 though….)

So, would the players have won in court? Will Gearbox be victorious in standing up for itself?

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7 Comments on False Advertising in Video Games – Aliens, SimCity and Your Wallet

Cumbucket O'Spunk

On August 14, 2014 at 10:17 am

The Supreme Court’s justification for ignoring quality assurance failures is one of the most asinine things I’ve ever read. It’s on par with the GOP stopping the 2000 recount because, in their own words, if it turned out Gore had won then it would mean Bush couldn’t be president.

Seriously, the court straight-up admits that customers can get screwed over yet doesn’t bother to stand up for them using the very legislation that is supposedly in place to help them out. Unbelievable.


On August 19, 2014 at 2:40 pm

This has become a major issue in the gaming industry. I remember when Infinity Ward promised dedicated servers in Call of Duty: Ghosts.


On August 20, 2014 at 10:32 pm

What is “Bar Games” supposed to allude to?


On August 21, 2014 at 8:03 pm

You just summed it up there in your last paragraph, people need to vote with there wallets. The problem being that nerds just can’t seem to keep it in their pants until the game is released (and reviewed) anymore, probably because they have a choice now. Unfortunately this advice seems to fall on deaf ears and people seem to prefer raging on the internet about how they’ve been eff’d over with their latest pre-order… Yet do nothing to change their consumer practices!

Mr. Tastix

On September 5, 2014 at 7:35 pm

@Dan (and anyone else wondering): The “bar” in “Bar Games” can refer to three primary things in regards to law:

1. The physical division of a courtroom between it’s working and public areas. That is the divider you see in courtrooms that separate the public (the “audience”) from the people in the trial; the judges, jury, lawyers, etc.

2. The process of qualifying to practice law. In this regards it refers to the procedure by which a lawyer is licensed to practice their trade in any given jurisdiction.

3. The legal profession itself. Pretty self-explanatory. “The Bar” can refer to the entire legal profession, but you can also add modifiers like the “tort bar” for lawyers specializing in civil suits.

In this case, “Bar Games” like refers to the third definition, since the articles discuss law in relation to gaming. Hence “games bar” or “bar games”.


On December 16, 2014 at 10:29 am

Excellent write up, but my one problem is that it’s not our fault! There are some early access games out there (Kerbal Space Program, Space Engineers, 7 Days to Die, etc.) that are absolutely amazing, and are the gems we’re hoping for. I think the basic rule of thumb should just be, don’t buy into any early access/beta/anything offered by EA or Peter Molyneux.

Now a question: So with this supreme court ruling, does this now expand beyond the gaming industry? If a company sells, for example, a kiddy pool with pictures of a teenager wading through a chest deep pool, but then inside the box is a bucket that a toddler wouldn’t fit in, would any false advertising suits have to originate from a competing company now? Have we, as consumers, just be COMPLETELY cut out of the protections from false advertising ALL TOGETHER?