UK games class action lawsuits edge a bit closer?

Just a quick one: the UK Government has released a paper regarding the role and powers which it proposes to give to a new consumer champion (known as the Consumer Advocate) who will have the power to take on large companies on behalf of consumers.  A key proposal is that the Consumer Advocate will be able to commence class action type lawsuits on behalf of consumers.

We have blogged previously about class actions in the games industry and the increasingly high profile which they are attaining.  At present, all of the high profile class action lawsuits against the industry have been in the USA – principally because that is the largest games market but also because the US legal regime is friendly to class actions.  The UK legal system, however, has not historically permitted US-style class action lawsuits.

As we’ve said before, sometimes class actions can be useful where there is a legitimate grievance against a business organisation with (hopefully) deep pockets, especially if there is no specialist regulator policing the industry’s actions.

The games industry fits all of that: many times in the past gamers have felt they got a rough deal – take for example the  Red Rings problem with the Xbox 360 – which it has taken a long time to resolve with games companies (although it has been more or less resolved with Microsoft’s additional consumer protection).  At the same time, in the UK there is no specialist regulator policing what the games industry does – the nearest would probably be the Office of Fair Trading, which has a general remit over retail traders.  So, it may be that UK class action type lawsuits could be of real help to UK consumers, including gamers.  That said, there is a big if: in the US, consumers can start class actions themselves, but it seems likely that under the new UK proposals the Consumer Advocate would be able to pick and choose what class actions to commence. 

So the creation of the role of Consumer Advocate being proposed by the Govt could actually prove quite useful to the games industry, since its existence would limit the ability of UK consumers to bring something like the more speculative class action lawsuits that have been seen previously in the USA.  Still, the mere possibility of any class action lawsuit in the UK against games companies is perhaps unlikely to be good news to the big players any way you cut it. 

In any event, the Govt proposals are still at the consultation stage and there is a way to go yet before we get close to a draft Bill or actual law.  More on this as and when…

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