This morning, my Facebook ad feed got my attention. Not because of some classic “Download now” CTA but because of a screenshot from a game I love. Because I love this game, and because it can only be played with some dexterity and a good mouse, I was heavily surprised to see it pop in my feed. For those who don’t know, this is a screenshot from Age of Empire 2, a 1999 game by Microsoft.

age-of-warring-empire-ripoff

Microsoft’s Age of Empire 2 screenshot used on Facebook

So, Age of Warring Empire – a US top 10 role playing game – is using screenshots from a well known PC game to promote its own mobile game. This is both a lie and a proof that Facebook is not seriously dealing with this kind of issues. I know, it’s easier to detect when there is too much text on a picture than it is to detect rip off, but still.

Some other cases

Here are some reviews from the Google Play page for Age of Warring Empire:

THIS GAME FALSE ADVERTS AND ITS BAD I was looking on my Facebook one day when I see a advertisement for this game. I read that it says it’s the best strategy game( which is a lie) and it uses a picture taken in a strategy game called Rome II.

source.

This game is awesome…. The only confusion i had was when i first started the game, i thought it was going to be the same of the PC game Age of Empires.

source.

And another screenshot, found in this reddit thread discussing the same issue. This time, it was spotted on iOS, towards the end of August.

credit : /u/ash347

credit : /u/ash347

As you can see, this has been happening for some time already, and it’s not just about Age of Empire, other games are being used by Silent Ocean – the developer – for the promotion of Age of Warring Empire. Ripping Microsoft off isn’t something new for the developer either, as attests its initial press release (from 2012):

SLG game ‘Age of Empire’ conquers the rankings
Created by Silent Ocean, ‘Age of Empire’ is taking Android by storm, already becoming the top grossing app in 17 countries.

source

At least, it’s for real.

Now, who are those guys?

When you see dodgy stuff happening in mobile ads, it’s whether the responsibility of the advertiser, or its affiliates / agencies. In this case, I have no idea who the real responsible is, but looking into who Silent Ocean are kind of hinted me.

Age of Warring Empire is a game developed by Silent Ocean, a relatively small developer, if we consider the amount of apps it has published : 1. If you search for Silent Ocean, you won’t find anything interesting. However, you’ll find a link to 337.com on Age of Warring Empire’s Facebook page. 337.com is apparently a casual gaming platform that really looks like the kind of products Chinese companies can come up with (think: Android alternative app stores). Further digging around 337.com will tell you that they are – amongst other things – editing a nice little piece of software, dubbed Desk 365. Desk 365 is apparently full of malwares. Their other PC software, AppTools is also a known malware. OK, it looks like 337.com are not part of the good guys clan!

Yet, this doesn’t tell us much. Fortunately, Crunchbase is there to help, and you can find there that 337.com belongs to Elex Technology, a Beijing based company. As usual, Tencent has been one of their notable investors, as mentioned on Elex’s website. This would explain the 10M+ installs, not the misleading ads and their malware based side-business…

Interestingly enough, Tencent has exited Elex in June 2014, as it sold the company to Chinese Universe Publishing and Media Company, for $434M. The latter has nothing to deal with mobile gaming, and this acquisition is seen as a real pivot for them.

What a let down, I was expecting something crunchier.