Australia, Steam and consumer legal rights in video games

If you decide you don’t want your purchased Steam, Xbox Live or Apple iOS game anymore, or if it doesn’t work as promised or at all, what rights do you have legally?

I get such questions a LOT.  While there is a body of law about this area of consumer protection, sadly there is little in the way of actual, specific legal decisions applying those laws to this situation to to which I can point. So I read with interest some recent news out of Australia on the consumer protection front: the Australian Competition and Consumer Authority is to investigate Steam, the world’s largest digital distribution platform for games, over concerns that it does not comply with Australian consumer protection law, particularly relating to refunds and returns.

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European Commission consultation on free to play games and ‘free’ mobile apps: an initial analysis

News broke today that the European Commission, one of three arms of the European Union, will be holding a consultation over the next two days regarding in-app purchases and free to play games and any mobile apps that call themselves ‘free’. This post is my initial analysis of this interesting (but not unexpected) development, which potentially bodes a future of big changes for this part of the mobile industry.

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What happens legally when a retailer sends you a console bundle instead of a game?

Here’s something interesting that happened recently: customers of online retailer Zavvi ordered a new game called Tearaway but the retailer mistakenly shipped out to them the game AND a (much more valuable) PlayStation Vita handheld console (see here).  They realised their mistake and have since apparently threatened legal action against customers refusing to return the goods.

So here’s a classic legal question for you: when you give someone something different to what either of you were expecting, what happens?  Who’s in the right? Continue reading What happens legally when a retailer sends you a console bundle instead of a game?

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…

A touch of class? Class actions and the games industry

Our article on class actions has been published on

Disputes are inevitable in any industry. They can be can be expensive, time-consuming and risky, but they are often caused by genuine differences between businesses – from time to time deals fall through and contracts are broken, which may lead to the innocent party feeling aggrieved and deserving compensation. In other cases, disputes can form part of a useful business strategy, for example a lawsuit against a competitor. And sometimes individuals or businesses may use disputes to try to secure a quick and advantageous outcome, such as a cash settlement….”

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