(This was co-written with Laurie Jones)

Times, they just got interesting.

In an age where some developers and publishers insist on always-on connections for games and systems, a draft Consumer Rights Bill has been published and features proposals that will force concerned parties to change their tardy practices.

Shoppers have been downtrodden and ripped off by various loopholes and policies in the past. For instance, during SimCity’s launch difficulties, despite people not being able to play the game, EA did not allow refunds for most consumers who requested one. The same challenges have affected other games, such as Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3. The Consumer Rights Bill will change that by bringing eight pieces of legislation into one, and adding new policies, giving more rights than ever.

The Bill will also be of significant interest to those who are considering purchasing Xbox One later this year, a system that will require a connection to the internet every 24 hours in order for people to play games offline. What if the system can’t connect to the internet for a period of several days? This could happen for a number of reasons: Xbox Live could be down for maintenance, or just down for no apparent reason, and you miss the 24 hour window because of this. Xbox Live could be hacked, just as PSN was, and take days to get back online. What if you can’t play any games during that time? This Bill could come into play, as you could argue that it’s not fit for purpose, i.e. gaming,  if the fault is Microsoft’s.

While i’m not sure if this will be covered by the Bill, it could be argued. One thing is for sure, you’ll never have this problem on the PS4.

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What are my entitlements?

At the moment, there is no clarity as to whether consumers are entitled to a refund on non-physical digital goods. If these new proposals kick in, consumers will be entitled to ask for a replacement, or full or partial refund.

Also, with substandard services, there’s no law which entitles consumers to get a service re-done or which enables them to get a refund (apart from where a service provider installs goods, where special rules apply or where it’s been laid out in a contract) but the proposals will ensure the consumer can demand that a job is re-done or get a full or partial refund.

And here’s the quote from Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson that changes the goalposts as far as the games industry is concerned..

“We want to make sure consumers are confident about their rights in everyday situations, be it their washing machine breaking down or an online game they purchased always crashing.

Basically, if this Bill passes, instances like we had with SimCity earlier this year will never happen again. Developers are going to be forced to make sure their game ships in its intended state and there won’t be such a heavy reliance on post-release patches to fix problems. That push for deadlines? If publishers don’t want to incur the wrath of the consumer and numerous refunds, they’re going to have to start listening to the people actually working on the product and make sure the game is ready to ship to the masses, not just ship it in its state at deadline. Even if this means pushing the release back.

If this Bill passes, games really will ship ‘when they’re ready’.

UKIE boss, Jo Twist, is already speaking to government, trying to help with the new proposals. However, I do find her comments ever so slightly concerning.

“We have already been working hard to educate the Government that bugs are an expected part of any game, due to their complex nature. We will continue to make the case that games are only ‘broken’ when they are fundamentally unplayable,”

While I understand bugs have become an expected part of modern games and the priority will always be with the ones that render games unplayable (as it should be), should we just put up with the fact that bugs will always be part of our games? Shouldn’t we fight for higher standards?

Other mediums, such as films, books and music, while they’re not quite as complex as game-design, are rarely made up of mistakes, plus the term game-breaking has become entirely relative. It could be something simple as a balance issue in a multiplayer shooter, or a corrupted save file that means you have to restart your progress from a previous checkpoint, or, at worst, the beginning of the game. These don’t render games unplayable, but they are going to negatively affect various consumers in unexpected ways and can be categorised as game-breaking.

This is why policing gaming has become extremely difficult and will surely continue to present challenges for years to come. In reality, this Bill is probably not going to help people with the issues highlighted above, but they should also be considered.

How does this affect businesses?

It’s not all for the consumer, though. The Consumer Affairs Minister also made the following very clear.

“This will also benefit businesses as they are going to spend less time working out their legal obligations when they get complaints from customers.”

Without going to court, these rights may still be difficult to enforce. Many people may not want to take things that far, especially when costs are considered.

The Government did say, however, that if the Bill passes,  Trading Standards will have new powers to ask a court to demand compensation be paid to consumers where the law is breached.

Things are still in the early stages, it still has to undergo parliamentary scrutiny in the Commons and the Lords, so it’s unlikely to become law until early next year , but this is definitely an encouraging first step.

(Big thanks to Money Saving Expert for compiling this information and bringing the story to our attention. You can read more about the bill there.)

 

  • Mark

    This is good, the consumers should be protected.